A Winning Recipe: Wellness in the Schools and FEAST

By Alex Parks

Systemic change in the world of food is a tough nut to crack. That’s why Wellness in the Schools and FEAST work together to make a lasting impact on how people think about food and wellness. With Wellness in the Schools programming focused on the cooks of tomorrow, and FEAST programming directed towards the cooks of today, we are collectively able to point students and parents in a healthier direction. 

In 2013, Sam Polk and his wife Dr. Kirsten Thompson started FEAST (Food Education, Access and Support) as a way to address the imbalances that come with a broken food system. They began to make an impact on thousands of individuals and families in Los Angeles with their free 16 week program, but food and health inequalities go far beyond the borders of Los Angeles. With the help of Wellness in the Schools, FEAST is now able to take their programming all the way across the country to New York City, where it is continuing to transform lives. Dana Rizer, the Executive Director of FEAST, said it best: “FEAST is so proud to partner with Wellness in the Schools. We share the belief that good food has the power to change lives, and we bring different ingredients to the table. By working together, we’re able to ensure that the schools, students and families have the resources to increase health and wellbeing. Through collaboration, we’ve created a winning recipe.” 

I was fortunate enough to attend a FEAST program at PS 112 here in Harlem to see this “winning recipe” firsthand. Every class begins with a nutritional discussion, but as this was the first class after the holiday break, everyone took a moment to tell the rest of the group what they did over the holidays. I could already tell that FEAST was transformative when one participant said, “I am happy to be back from break. This is my happy place, where I can be reminded to eat healthy, and be happy.” Today the discussion topic was on making healthier choices when eating out at restaurants. The group leader and participants went back and forth, asking questions, offering suggestions, and discussing the difficulties of making healthy choices when eating out. 

After the discussion ended, it was time to cook! The recipes for today were a Chickpea Salad with Tomatoes & Cucumber, and a Sautéed Zucchini, Tomato, and Chickpea Ragout served atop couscous. The recipe printouts even include extra facts and tips about the dish. Participants took turns dicing, measuring, and cooking until all of the food was ready. The food was delicious… both times. Yes, I got seconds. 

After everyone was finished eating it was time to get together for the sharing circle. The sharing circle is a safe space for FEAST participants to have a dialogue about a weekly topic. Participants confide in each other, and form a deep connection from the realization that although we all have unique obstacles we face in life, many of us are going through something that somebody else has experienced. The sharing circle is a reminder that you are not alone, and you have a group of people that you can turn to at every FEAST class. 

When I walked into the classroom that morning I was not sure what to expect, but when I left the classroom both my stomach and heart were full. I could tell that this program makes a difference for its regular participants because it had made a difference for me after only one class. I learned more about what to avoid when eating out at restaurants, I laughed and smiled while cooking with the rest of the participants, and I heard some truly incredible stories. I was reminded of the greatest aspect of cooking: it brings people together. It brought Wellness in the Schools and FEAST together, allowing for parents and children to cultivate healthy habits as a family. That too, is a winning recipe. 

How Will We Roar?

How Will We Roar?

By Nancy Easton

A new year. A new decade. The roaring 20’s. Let’s see how we will roar. For me, a time to reflect, reconnect and refocus on what is really important – my family, good friends and this meaningful work. I feel fortunate to get to do this work everyday, this mission driven work where I am rewarded the minute I walk into a Wellness in the Schools recess yard, school kitchen, or culinary classroom. 

With a new decade, I find myself much more pensive. I have no memory whatsoever of the turn to the 2010 decade, perhaps because I had 3 kids under 9 and was growing a small non profit. I know I was in deep, juggling school drop off, big meetings, family dinner, bedtime and then back to work. I know sometimes I felt like I was simply checking my list, fulfilling obligations and getting through my day. I know I was building something, both with my family and with my work, that was perhaps still abstract. 

This decade, I am most certainly at a different place that I hope to remember when I am reflecting in 2030. The day to day is not as intense – both my kids and my extraordinary and inspirational team are self sufficient – but the big picture of the meaning of the life and work looms very, very large. And, the big picture of how we create systemic change to end childhood obesity looms even larger. I continue to build and yet now I do so with a bit more understanding of where the ideas and visions will land – and sometimes that is not always hopeful, especially when each day we are bombarded with stories like this

If you have been reading this new year entry for a while, you would know that I am not much of a resolution gal. Resolutions, like diets, are often broken after the first month. Think, rather, about lifestyle. Sure, my husband challenged me to a few new things this year – 30 days without sugar, inspired by a piece he read in the NYT, or upping my meditation game (ie, not missing a day for 30 days, even if I only have 5 minutes – thank you Just Sit. Generally, each year is more of the same. And, such is the new year for Wellness in the Schools, especially since we are actually really just midway through our school year. We have new initiatives that we hope to bring to scale this year, but mostly we will continue our great work in the schools each day with a heightened sense of awareness and perseverance. The work in our 150 schools, in 4 states and DC is intense, it is messy, it is grueling and rewarding all at the same time. This is the meaningful stuff. We will forge ahead, against many obstacles, often against a lack of understanding. We champion not just our work, but the small wins in schools and the big wins of like-minded partners who are fighting the same battle. We do not do this alone. 

I write this on the weekend we honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and so I end with his inspiration – the time is always right to do what is right. This is why the extraordinary Wellness in the School’s team comes to work each day.  Bring it on, 2020.

Better Together: the Bronx Plan

Early this year, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza announced the first 50 schools accepted to the Bronx Plan, which was launched last year. Over the next three years, the Bronx Plan will support 180 historically underserved schools citywide. As part of the Bronx Plan, each department was asked to innovate and devise solutions to improve student outcomes. 

Doing their part, the Office of Food and Nutrition Services (OFNS) developed a collaborative menu (with recipes from the Alternative and Scratch Menus) that will also feature International Week recipes (Asian, Mediterranean and Latin).  And, here’s where we come in – Wellness in the Schools was invited by the leadership at OFNS to provide CookCamp training to all 50 schools. This invitation is symbolic of the growth of our partnership with OFNS over the past 15 years, and how we now seamlessly develop and implement programming in tandem. “We truly appreciate the partnership with Wellness in the Schools,” says Christopher Tricarico, Senior Executive Director, Office of Food and Nutrition Services.  “We are excited about the work and look forward to continuing the collaboration.”

What is particularly important about our CookCamp model is the focus on not only recipe training (from mise en place to knife skills to scaling recipes), but also on the “why” of our work – to fight childhood obesity. While observing our CookCamp model, the leadership of OFNS recognized the influence of the CookCamp training – to inspire those on the front line, the school cooks and managers – to be part of the solution. When asked how she is part of the obesity solution, a school cook explained in our October training how much she already notices how children are enjoying the new menu items, like fresh salad options and homemade spiced Adobe chicken. We have engaged a team of seven WITS Chefs and Managers to serve as lead trainers. They will gather with the 50 OFNS staff each month, in both classrooms and kitchens. Says Janice, one of the participants, “I didn’t know how we got picked as a school [for Bronx Plan] . . . Because of the CookCamp, I realize it’s a privilege, and I am excited to be one of the first schools.”

In addition to CookCamp training, we will market and promote the new recipes through WITS Tastings and Family Cooking Classes. We will teach families to prepare and enjoy the Bronx Plan International Lunch Menu recipes, such as Vegetarian Chili, Spiced Chicken with Rice and Beans, Pasta Primavera, and Sweet and Sour Chicken Bowl during a series of family classes. Classes like these have been shown to positively influence children’s food preferences and behaviors, according to a recent study by the Minnesota Heart Institute Foundation entitled “Food Explorers” (2015). The Family Cooking Classes are sponsored by Whole Foods Market 5% Day.

By educating school staff, parents, caregivers, and students on the why of this work and by supporting them to be wellness role models, Wellness in the Schools is executing on the goal of our NYC Chancellor, Richard A. Carranza:  “The Bronx Plan is grounded in our fundamental belief of investing in our schools, our students and our communities.” Our goal is to grow with this plan to serve all 180 schools, and to use as a pilot to expand citywide.

Back to School with Errol Jones, Coach for Kids Program Manager

Errol leads our Coach for Kids program in schools. He has been a crucial team member in the past 4 years, coaching students and providing professional development for teachers and coaches.

What brought you to Wellness in the Schools? 

I spent 22 years in the British Army, and then I moved to New York to follow my passion for working with young people. I was fortunate to join Wellness in the Schools four years ago. I started by working in Alternative Learning Centers, and then was put into schools as a WITS Coach. I really learned how to hone my craft, and luckily got promoted to Program Manager a couple of years ago. As Program Manager, I facilitate training and manage schools in New York City, and I pass on the lessons and experiences I’ve had to our coaches, teachers, and students. 

What are some top memories that stand out to you? 

Working alongside Adelphi University coaches has been incredible – the partnership Wellness in the Schools has with Adelphi is so strong. Our first cohort of coaches have all developed into great leaders themselves. For example, Jason Perez, one of our first Adelphi fellows, now works for DREAM Charter School (with which we have now developed a really unique partnership), and it’s been great to see his journey. He is now working with Adelphi first-year students, and he goes out and assesses them on the recess yard. It’s come full circle. 

What does the WITS Coach for Kids Program achieve during active recess?

We enable kids to exercise creativity, self-expression, inclusion, and we give them tools for healthy conflict resolution. 

You’ve seen the program grow exponentially over the last 4 years, especially the Coach side… 

Well, every year, this program grows into this bigger beast. There’s a lot of growth, and we are evolving and growing with the program. It’s important for us to focus on making sure our structure is strong, and just believing in the people we have working with us. We all have the same passion and dreams and goals, we just need to keep our focus on quality as we grow.

Kids’ favorite recess activity?

Definitely any variation of tag! We’re just trying to get them as active as possible, and wanting to make sure they have fun. 

Favorite part of the job?

Interacting with people within a school community.

How do donations support Coach for Kids programs?

School communities instantly see the value in our programs: coaches make connections at a personal level and students return to class ready to focus and learn. 

Donations allow more schools to start Coach for Kids programs, and on more days of the week. We include school aides in games which moves the school community towards the long-term sustainability of active recess. 

Hopes and dreams for the future of school fitness? 

A Summer Camp Program and After School Programs where we could better utilize our large pool of coaches and community fitness partners. Bigger picture – going even more national, so that we are in more schools and impacting more children across the country!

Growth Within Our Capital

Wellness in the Schools has grown exponentially in the past few years, thanks to demand from across the country. With roots in a tiny classroom in New York City, the organization has expanded to California, Florida, New Jersey, and now Washington D.C.. We are entering our second year in our nation’s capital, and our partnership with DC Public Schools (DCPS) continues to grow stronger. 

Our partnership started with the 2018-2019 school year, with Annie Hanrahan (a former NYC WITS Chef!) spearheading the effort. We were asked to come to Washington D.C. by FRESHFARM FoodPrints, who were already partnered with DC Public Schools Food & Nutrition Services. The FoodPrints program integrates gardening, cooking, and nutrition education into the school curriculum, with the ultimate goal of improving health outcomes of children and families. While they had a strong presence in schools by teaching children to cook healthy and delicious recipes, they needed support to bring these recipes to the cafeteria. Thus, Wellness in the Schools stepped in, bringing our CookCamp (school cook training) expertise to the cafeteria.

We started small – just four schools – but that expanded to eight by Winter of 2018. And it didn’t take long for DCPS started to notice Wellness in the Schools. We are now in 10 schools in partnership with FoodPrints as part of their Class-to-Cafe program, which includes one scratch-cooked day per week at each school, with the menu reflecting what the students are learning in the classrooms. Says Annie, “Our partnership with FoodPrints is really awesome – it’s so unique working with a partner so closely. Everything we do is in tandem, and we make sure that their classroom work is being translated into the cafeteria as fully as possible.”

In addition to these 10 schools, DCPS contracted us to manage two new self-operating schools for the 2019-2020 school year. Our role in these two schools is to manage and assist in the cafeteria kitchens with the school food staff, and manage them in a coach-teach-train model to help the move to self-operating be as sustainable as possible. Our WITS Manager Chelsea oversees breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Our goal is to move all three meals to more scratch-cooked, in collaboration with DCPS. 

Over the summer, Wellness in the Schools brought CookCamp training for the entire kitchen staff at each self-operating school. Says Annie, “CookCamps are really just incredible. I think that is where we really get the buy-in from the staff. It has shown the value of what we can do, and it is an incredible team-building and engaging experience with cafeteria staff. We give them a platform for their voice as well, which I think is so important.”

Looking ahead, we will be starting WITS Labs in D.C. for the first time this year. We will continue to conduct WITS Tastings in the cafeteria, and are looking forward to hosting WITS Cafe Days as well. 

While this relationship with DCPS is still fairly new, it has been a positive one. Says Rob Jaber, Director of Food and Nutrition Services at DCPS, “It has been an absolute pleasure and honor to join you in this journey. The gains are real, and now measured – students are increasingly excited about eating healthier options at school, and we’re hearing them tell the stories of how those same recipes are now coming into their homes to make with the family. This work matters. I look forward to continuing this work with you all.” 

Check out an incredible video of our work, highlighting the power of our partnerships, here

Using Her Skills for Good: James Beard Award-winning Chef Andrea Reusing

In early October, during our Fall Harvest Dinner, the lucky guests enjoyed a variety of delicious and unique dishes, ranging from summer squash Som Tum soup with rooftop shiso to black cocoa cheesecake with nori. All of the participating chefs were New York City-based except one: Chef Andrea Reusing. Reusing, chef and owner of Lantern in Chapel Hill and executive chef of the Durham Hotel, joined us from North Carolina to serve the guests a delicious first course of smoked Blue Hill mussels with potato, charred onion, and purslane. Chef Andrea is more than the recipient of the James Beard Award for “Best Chef: Southeast” – she also is an advocate for children and wellness in schools. As a founder of Kitchen Patrol, she works tirelessly to improve children’s access to quality food through weekly cooking classes, hosted at the Lantern. Due to parallels between her work and Wellness in the Schools’ mission, we recently sat down with Chef Andrea to learn more about her background, and to get her thoughts on what food – specifically, food access – means to her. 

Chef Andrea is based in the South, but she has some roots in New York City – she attended NYU for undergrad, and first entered the food world by working as a cocktail waitress in the NYC restaurant world. According to Andrea, “that got really old really fast,” and she started cooking at a restaurant in the East Village. “I was just hungry all the time, and so I had to learn how to feed myself,” says Andrea. However, she did not think she would stay in the restaurant world. After college, she worked in politics, and it was then that she realized how political of a subject food could be. She found herself again immersed in the food and restaurant world, albeit with a different view.

“Hunger is a huge issue in North Carolina – 1 in 4 children live in food insecurity. We were thinking about ways that we could use the restaurant (Lantern) to open up a real food experience for kids, especially those from low-resource households, and it’s how Kitchen Patrol came about,” says Andrea. Kitchen Patrol was founded upon the realization that many after-school activities, as enriching and valuable as they were, did not include a hands-on cooking component. Every semester, around 12 to 14, 4th and 5th graders join Chef Andrea and her team for a weekly cooking class at the restaurant, where they are taught basic cooking skills in the open-kitchen event space. Says Andrea, “We all cook together around the island, and then we set the table and sit down and eat what we’ve made – it’s just all really sweet.” The activities extend outside of Lantern as well – the participants visit farms, engage with guest chefs, and partake in other events every year. The inaugural class was six years ago. Those participants are now seniors in high school, and many of their siblings have also gone through the Kitchen Patrol program. 

The curriculum, developed by her partner Vera Fabian, is both educational and interactive. Every child tries at least four or five different vegetables that they have never tried before. Similar to our WITS CookCamp, the participants learn everything from knife skills to proper mise en place. Says Andrea, “Every kid learns that they can put food on the table, and that they have time to cook. The thing that keeps us going is really, honestly, seeing the kids and seeing their developing relationship with food. The hope is that the child, and their families, can see whole food as something that is for them, and not just for people who write food blogs or go to restaurants. Food is something that they can be in control of, and they can enjoy real food and meet people who grow it and learn to prepare dishes on their own.” Ultimately, the Kitchen Patrol team wants to use their time, space and relationships to provide a program that children may not otherwise have access to. 

Chef Andrea is also making waves within the school food sphere. She works with Durham Bowls, an organization that teams up talented chefs and school nutrition professionals from across Durham to develop delicious, healthy recipes for Durham Public Schools. People are able to try various dishes and vote on winners at a public tasting event. The ultimate goal for Durham Bowls is to increase school meal participation, which in turn makes more money available to reinvest in school nutrition and positively impact the future of school food. 

As a chef of a fine dining restaurant, Chef Andrea does feel a tension in being part of a culture that sometimes appears to promote food as a sport. Eating in certain restaurants can be seen as another notch on the belt. The ‘foodie’ movement has only gathered steam over the years, yet all of this attention on food and chefs has not served to ultimately expand access to food. Says Andrea, “Food media mystifies chefs, and chefs mystify food. I think that the overall food network gives us a message that you need to have special skills or resources to simply cook a meal for your own family. And I think that message is harmful. I feel like it is our role, as people in the food industry, to help counter that message to demystify cooking, and to support the people who need or are seeking cooking skills.”  

Chef Andrea is doing incredible work in North Carolina, and we feel very fortunate to have her as a supporter of Wellness in the Schools. As we grow our work across the nation, we will certainly get the chance to work with Chef Andrea more in the years ahead. 

National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month Statement by Nancy Easton

National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month is coming to an end, but the conversation has to be ongoing. Childhood obesity can be a difficult but necessary conversation. We focus 100% on health. Every day we’re in schools addressing our Nation’s childhood obesity epidemic with students, families, teachers, cooks, Departments of Education, and our community & corporate partners. 

Think about the 1-2 times a year that you’re really sick; you might make it into the office, but when you do, you’re not at your best. After a few days you might be back in your regular routine, appreciating your good health, but imagine feeling this way every single day of your life. That’s how an overweight or obese child feels every day; she has little chance to grow up to be healthy and productive. 

1 in 3 American children are overweight or obese. We spend nearly $200 billion on obesity related illness each year in health costs – $14 billion on childhood obesity.

Our kids are sick and that is why are proactive in disrupting the status quo. We work with the federal lunch program and within the school systems to make systemic, long-term changes. Today, we work in nearly 200 schools across 5 states, serving 97,000 students daily. Our chefs and coaches provide healthy school lunches and active recess periods, and educational programming to support these systemic changes.

Our work is built on the power of partnerships and authentic relationships. It’s people talking to people that makes change happen.

Summer Chef / Fitness Partner Tip

Summer Chef Partner Tip:

We are pleased to announce our new Chef Partner, Dominick Maietta, the Chef de Cuisine for Coqueta in San Francisco. Chef Maietta was born and raised in the Bronx, and his family has been in the restaurant business since the 1940’s. He attended culinary school when he was 22, and has been working his way up ever since. He deeply believes in WITS’ message of health – he realized that with his 12 – 16 hour work days, he really had to look at food as fuel. When asked why he wanted to get involved with WITS, he says, “I was looking to volunteer on my off days specifically with a school program. Thanks to Instagram, I saw my culinary school was partnering with WITS, and I was intrigued. I did some research and found they had a West Coast operation in the Bay Area. What has stood out to me so far is the dedication WITS has for helping students connect the dots – from the farm to the cutting board to tasting the finished product. It is such a well-rounded approach to teaching kids about food.” We’re lucky to have Chef Dominick as part of our team! See below for his Summer Recipe.

“I absolutely love making watermelon salad in the summer. It’s so easy and very refreshing. I make a couple different versions but this is one of my favorites.” – Dominick Maietta, Chef de Cuisine of Coqueta 

Watermelon Feta Salad

1 medium seedless watermelon cut into 1″ cubes
Juice from 3 limes
1/4 cup olive oil
1 1/2 tsp of salt
3/4 tsp ground pepper
1/2 cup fresh mint, chopped
1/2 cup crumbled feta

Combine the lime juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper in a small bowl to create a dressing. Pour the dressing over the watermelon cubes and toss gently to coat. Gently mix in the fresh mint and feta cheese. 

*This salad is best made just prior to serving.
*When I pick out a watermelon I always choose one with a large yellow sunspot. They tend to be the sweetest!

Summer Fitness Partner Tip:

We were very excited to have Soft Lacrosse as our Fitness Partner this past year as they joined us at Epiphany Lower School for a WITS Play Day in January. This organization is on a mission to provide all youth with the opportunity to better themselves and communities through lacrosse; their activities are designed to help boys and girls gain confidence and improve their ability to problem solve, work with others, and make sound decisions to live a healthy lifestyle.  We are looking forward to partnering with them again this year to offer students an opportunity to try out lacrosse. See below for our Summer Fitness Partner Tip:

Think of your body like an engine – you can go fast and have a lot of fun but only if you’re warmed up and ready to go. It’s easy to get your body’s engine ready to play!

First, you need to put fuel in your engine. Next time you eat, take a look at the food on our plate and count how many colors there are. The more colors of food you have, the better the fuel is and the faster and stronger you’ll be. Once your engine is fueled up, we can get ready to go!!

With our engines strong and ready to play, we need to get our minds ready for fun too. Our engine is steered by the control room so we need to make sure it’s ready to go full speed too. Here’s a way for you to focus on the game so you can get out and have even more fun:

  • Close your eyes or find a spot just in front of you. Look right at it and keep your eyes on that spot.
  • Put your hand on your belly and feel the flow of breath in and out.
  • Give your full attention to your breath and feel it all the way in and all the way out.
  • Try to notice your in-breath and observe right when it begins
  • Follow it through all the way through to the out-breath.
  • Then see if you can feel the little moment right between breaths where everything is still and quiet.
  • This is your still quiet place. It’s always with us. Even when we are excited, or silly, or even when we’re sad, or want to jump around.

Finding our quiet place can take a few seconds or a few minutes. You can use your quiet place to give our full attention to the game, which means our engines can go super fast and you’ll have a lot more fun. Give it a try next time you are about to play!

Allison Grover and David Mansbach join WITS Board of Directors

By: Melissa Neubart

This summer, we had the pleasure of welcoming two new members to our Board of Directors, Allison Grover and David Mansbach. Both bring unique passions and experiences in the health and hospitality industries. We are excited for their fresh perspectives – we think you will agree!

Allison Grover is a former Wall Streeter, mom of four, and advisor to and investor in several early stage fitness and wellness companies.  Allison stepped away from her finance career to stay home with her small kids for two years. Instead of finance, she went back to work for the children’s wear and athleisure brand, Terez, where she served as president and brand strategist for two years. It was through this role at Terez that Allison was really able to develop her relationships in the fitness world beyond the recreational status she already had.   

After leaving Terez, Allison continued to cultivate her relationships and participation in the fitness world, and one thing became very clear to her – that though there was an explosion in terms of the fitness options and level of accessibility for her, optionality and accessibility did not extend to the underserved neighborhoods of New York City. Mending that disparity became a passion of Allison’s.  And as luck would have it, she was discussing this passion with a friend two years ago, and this friend said, “You must meet Nancy Easton” – and the rest is happy history.

Allison can’t wait to dig in further with WITS, and hopefully bring some value to the table. 

We also have the pleasure of welcoming David Mansach. David is a founding partner at AETHOS Consulting, a global advisory firm serving the hospitality industry. David has a very interesting story of how he found himself in this field. In college, David pursued accounting as it was the only way his father would pay for his education. By pure luck, he found his career path when he landed his first job in the accounting department at The Plaza in New York City. After the first 8 years on the operations side of the hotel business, his experiences led him into his current role at AETHOS. He says that he’s lucky to have had a mentor since his time at The Plaza, and feels passionate about coaching and helping people navigate their way through their field of work.  “It’s what I do,” he says, “we have an obligation to help the younger generation.”

David constantly tells his children, “Find your passion and you’ll never work a day in your life.”  He advises people not to worry about the pay, but more so to focus on finding a mentor within the first three years of your career to build a foundation. It’s also very important not to compare yourself to your friends. These are his rules of the road: “If you’re on that journey, you’ll be able to find your passion.” 

David heard about Wellness in the Schools from WITS Board of Director’s President Nick Marsh, CEO of Chop’t. David decided to become a Board Member after seeing WITS Executive Director and Founder Nancy Easton’s passion for what she is doing. “You don’t see that kind of passion in many people like you do with Nancy.” David wants to help be a part of this movement to revolutionize school food. 

We’re excited to have Allison and David support WITS’ growth in years to come.

Green for Kids and Cook for Kids in the Bronx

By: Ricardo Diaz

One year ago, the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG) showcased an edible garden as part of their educational center. The Edible Academy is a state-of-the-art educational facility featuring hands-on activities and innovative programs that help children, families, teachers, and the general public learn about growing and preparing vegetables, fruit, and herbs while encouraging a lifelong interest in gardening, nutrition awareness, and environmental stewardship. The NYBG sits in an area of high food insecurity, which makes the Edible Academy’s work even more crucial. The initiatives cover topics such as how to plant and grow herbs, how to compost, and how to harvest vegetables. Two WITS schools, AmPark Neighborhood School and Samara Community School, often take trips to the NYBC.

WITS was invited to take part in two events at the Edible Academy this year, thanks to our relationship within the Bronx community. Before the Edible Academy was established, WITS Program Manager Marion Williams established a partnership with Bronx Green-Up, an arm of the NYBC. Thus, WITS was invited to be a part of the Edible Academy’s opening weekend. The WITS team provided cooking demonstrations as part of their “Honey & Harvest” opening weekend.

WITS was then invited to be a part of the Summer Solstice Celebration this past June, to celebrate the Edible Academy’s one year anniversary. The team provided demonstrations using the vegetables and herbs that were growing in the garden itself. This was a true example of our national work – WITS utilized a recipe (spring pea pesto) initially created by one of our Chef Partner Aria Kagan in Florida, which was then modified for use in the Washington D.C. CookCamp. Because the Edible Academy was growing spinach, the team used fresh spinach along with the spring peas, and created paninis and pesto pasta salads. All the WITS schools in the neighborhood were invited, and every participant received a tasting and recipe card, along with a thorough explanation of how to make the meals.  

As a WITS Chef with schools in the Bronx (who also happens to be from the Bronx), it has been a pleasure and privilege to join Chef Marion in collaborating with not only a local organization with established roots in the community, but also with a very accommodating partner. WITS is looking forward to going back for the next demonstration, and building upon our relationships within this special community.