Thursday, January 10, 2013

My MG Volunteer Work at Mander

Kristin Lacey

It was April and the clock was time was running out to find my Master Gardener volunteer activity. I had about 10 down. 40 hours to go. Educating kids was my goal and then Jackie Simon’s email arrived in my inbox. She touted a 4-H opportunity which included working with kids at the Mander Recreational Center in the Strawberry Mansion section of the city. “Perfect,” I thought, “I already know and work with these kids!” For the last 2 years I have been volunteering with Urban Blazers, getting kids outside hiking in Fairmont Park while teaching them about nature.

To get started, I met with the folks at EPRA (East Park Revitalization Alliance) as they run the education piece of the Mander after school program. They also run an orchard and 2 farm sites, a farm stand, and they help link the kids to the farmers who are already providing produce to this community. Nicole Sugarman is EPRA’s farmer in chief. So, I joined forces with her to educate the kids about what was happening real time in the gardens and then link it with a corresponding nutrition/cooking lesson.

First up were potatoes! We needed to get some in the ground, easy enough, but it was raining so we couldn’t have the kids walk the several blocks to the farm site. So for our backup plan: I grabbed some potatoes from my kitchen and some cornmeal. Nicole and I met the kids at the rec center and got the oven hot in the rec center’s kitchen. We handed out sheets naming the parts of the potato plant and the kids colored them in. This fostered a great conversation about all the different colors of potatoes there are. Laughter erupted with the kids’ disbelief that there are purple potatoes. 

Back to the kitchen: We had the kids dredge the potato slices in a mix of cornmeal, salt and pepper. Then we baked them. The kids liked them. Even the kids who were at first not interested in helping us in the kitchen, found their way in to try the potatoes and then eat seconds!  

The next week it rained again! No hands on planting that day for the kids. But head farmer Nicole harvested kale that day for our second cooking class. This time we made kale chips! The kids loved ripping the kale into pieces and tossing it with oil, salt and pepper. With green kale in their teeth they asked for more! All summer long the kids learned more about veggies and fruits, harvesting and taking home produce to share with their families. The kids’ excitement and interest was reward enough but Nicole was patient and kind as she answered my never ending questions about organic veggie and fruit farming.

Oh! I forgot to mention that EPRA and the kids run a farm stand with all their farms’ bounty. Check out these great pictures of Mander and neighborhood kids at the farmstand.

EPRA also runs a food pantry all year round. The pantry is always in need of non-pershable food donations. Bring canned goods or extra peanut butter, etc. to the next Master Gardener meeting and I will take them to the pantry.

Not a Master Gardener? Feel free to drop off donations at EPRA’s office:
East Park Revitalization Alliance
1737 N. 31st St.
Philadelphia, PA 19121
(215) 869-4208

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