People and programs
“I’d like to come back here for the rest of my life. Can I come back the next session, Melissa?” When Melissa Rankin – Food Skills Coordinator at Dartmouth North Community Food Centre – first started working with this young boy quoted above, it was as a volunteer at Dartmouth Family Centre’s after-school program. Even with a brilliant and bubbly personality, he was more distracted back then and harder to engage. When he started attending Dartmouth North CFC’s Young Cooks program in August, though, she saw him bloom, “The welcoming space makes a big difference with kids: safe, fun environment where they’re listened to and encourage to speak.”
Dartmouth North CFC’s after-school program is about to bloom as well, with children back at school and ready to learn. Opposed to popular belief, kids loves a lot more than ice cream and chicken fingers when it comes to food. For their August session, Melissa introduced the children to fresh basil, from seed to tip: “"They will be able to look out the window and see the basil growing, this time next year. And then it goes from hands on to a deeper respect for the environment.” After they learned how it grew and discussed how it tasted, the children learned how to make a pesto to bring home to their families. Even the basics – like following through on a recipe from start to finish – might seem simple but it is an important skill that is not taught as often as it should be with the decline of home economics in schools. But being able to successfully follow through on something empowers the kids, builds confidence, and whets their appetite for learning more.
This appetite for knowledge is something Melissa loves the most about working with kids, and she encourages it thoroughly. Every session starts with a snack and a discussion, with the children sharing what kinds of foods they love and asking questions about the day’s project. Communal eating and discussion also occurs at the end of each session: would they make the recipe again? What was their favourite part of the day? What did they learn? This all works into building a deeper understanding of food, as well as a love for it, “They naturally gravitate to it, and they’re telling me that they love it. It’s encouraging good food habits. We are really naturally interested in it, but it’s a skill that needs to be built: the more you do it, the better you get at it.“
Dartmouth Family Centre has been operating in the Dartmouth community for over 25 years with a focus on strengthening families through their diverse programs. After partnering with Community food Centres Canada, they created the Dartmouth North Community Food Centre, expanding the existing array of programs and providing a number of new entry points for families with young children, while expanding food access and skill-building opportunities for other community members. “There are so many areas where life is improved for people by just having the CFC here: it’s a dignified space. It doesn’t take much, but you do see the improvements in people’s lives. It’s early days, too. We sold 400 pounds of produce at our first market: there is a need for good food.”
And there’s more to look forward to. The first after-school kids came in early September to plant seeds with Rob, Dartmouth North CFC’s garden coordinator, learning more about how enjoying food is linked to a larger food system. But it’s not all serious in this kitchen: if the kids have fun and enjoy a healthy meal while they’re at it, it’s a success. After all, kids love to eat, “It’s really encouraging to see the universal love of cooking and how genuinely the kids lose themselves in it. They love to eat and you want to encourage that….You want to send the message that good food can taste really good.”
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