Growing Strong

Goodman Community Center and Boys and Girls Club understand relationship between kids and food

Any discussion of the advantages of growing up in Madison will include both the Boys and Girls Club of Dane County and the Goodman Community Center. They are simply foundational pieces of the incredible array of assets available for Madison’s children. In fact, one could argue both organizations are taken for granted to some degree, which can only be viewed as a tribute to the breadth of their contributions.

We were struck by the applicability of the Goodman Community Center and the Boys and Girls Club to this column—and that is for their genuine appreciation for the important relationship between children and food. And when you think about it, why should that relationship be any different than that adults have with food? Young people like to eat, they’re increasingly aware of the role good food plays in their general health and well-being, and more and more they care about the environment and their world. All of that is part of how both the GCC and Boys and Girls Club currently define their missions. And we think that’s important.

When Boys and Girls Club of Dane County CEO Michael Johnson arrived in town, one of the first things he did was yank the deep fryers out of the club’s Taft Street kitchen. One of the next things he did was plant a garden. Today the club partners with groups like Growing Power Madison, South Madison Farmers Market, Slow Food UW and others in creating garden spaces at both Taft Street and Allied Drive locations, where kids learn about food systems by growing nutritional foods and through cooking education. Young people are helped to feel more comfortable and knowledgable about food choices, where food comes from and how to lead healthy lifestyles. You can see the influence of that thinking in other club partnerships like Girls on the Run and Healthy Habits, the latter with the goal of “helping youth connect mind (making decisions about smart food choices), body (being physically active) and soul (strengthening interpersonal skills, positive behavior and good character).” We’ve always liked the connection of food to soul, Slow Food’s philosophy of “good, clean and fair” being a great example.

Goodman Community Center’s Seed to Table program is all that and more. Not only is the program a hands-on model of experience in urban agriculture, culinary arts and food preservation; with recent Madison Metropolitan School District approval, students can also earn science course credits at the Seed to Table Innovation Campus by working in the kitchen, gardens and woodshop learning skills in the food service and agriculture industries. The campus is staffed by teachers who incorporate “inquiry-based methods to teach science, social studies, mathematics and language arts” as components of the hands-on learning. Cool, eh? Our favorite part of the course description? “Students may experience uncomfortable working environments including heat, cold, dirt, sun and insects.” Sounds just right for what GCC touts as one of its Career Pathways.

And that’s part of what makes these new approaches to young people’s connections to food so exciting. Sure, there’s the benefit of trying new foods—taste education, if you will—and the enjoyment of discovering really good stuff to eat. And by and large we’re doing a much better job of emphasizing the role of healthy eating in overall physical health. But the exposure to how food is grown, how it’s prepared and cooked, how it can be preserved or frozen or canned, and how it’s all part of a system—that can change how one thinks and acts and lives. Young people should absolutely be part of the food discussion in our world today. After all, soon they’ll be leading that discussion.

Nancy Christy is the former owner of the Wilson Street Grill. She now runs the consulting firm Meaningful People, Places and Food. Neil Heinen is, among other things, her hungry husband.

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