With pencils and notebooks in hand on Friday morning, children participating in Project MOST converged on the East Hampton Farmers Market with questions for local farmers and artisans—How do you make empanadas? What kind of vegetables do you grow? Why don’t you use pesticides?
The fifth- and sixth-graders shyly approached each vendor, eager to learn what it is like to grow organic food, make pastries by hand with organic ingredients, or run a business, for instance.
As part of Project MOST’s Springs Seedlings summer learning program, 60 students are learning hands-on how food is grown, harvested and how fresh food contributes to their health and development. According to Tim Bryden, the organization’s executive director, the students grow, harvest and prepare foods for their own lunches each week and learn about the importance of having access to fresh food.
“They have to see firsthand where the food goes,” Mr. Bryden said. “They have to go there to see the process, that’s when they start to internalize it.”
Just last week, the children learned how to harvest clams and oysters and had a delicious seafood lunch, he said.
At the farmers market, students tasted organic artisanal cheese from Mecox Bay Dairy, organic greens from Bhumi Farm, handmade empanadas from Gula Gula Empanadas, and chutney from Josephine’s Feast!, among other delicacies.
And in addition to jotting down notes, students shared their findings with the camera—as part of the Seedlings Project, the students are creating a documentary about their experiences.
“Some people use organic ingredients,” said Rolando Ellis, with microphone in hand. “People who do say it is better than using pesticides, but say it’s harder to grow them. People who don’t can grow plants faster and don’t have bugs or animals eating their plants.”
Mr. Bryden said that if children understand how the food they eat affects their health and how farming methods affect the environment, they will be better equipped to take care of themselves and the land as they grow older—a goal in line with the program’s theme, “Food Justice.”
The summer program is made possible by the Levitt Foundation, which awarded the after-school program a $51,000 grant in 2011 to extend its services into the summer to serve children who have fewer opportunities to participate in summer activities. Monday through Friday at the Springs School from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., students spend time in the Springs Seedlings Greenhouse and outdoor garden at the school and take field trips, not just to the farmers market, but to other local food sources like the East Hampton Town Shellfish Hatchery.
The students gain more support each year from the East Hampton Farmers Market as well. On Friday, Joseph Realmuto, executive chef of Nick & Toni’s, presented a check for $1,000 on behalf of the vendors who frequent the farmers market, which Mr. Realmuto helped start up in 2006. The market, which is open each summer Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., has grown to include more than 20 vendors.
Luchi Masliah of Gula Gula Empanadas carefully explained how she makes her empanadas with clean meat and local veggies and asked students, some who were from Mexico, how their family makes empanadas.
“These are not fried, they’re baked—which is better for you,” she said, smiling at the group of children around her table.
Nearby, boys were taste-testing spicy pickles from Horman’s Best Pickles, which had them nearly in tears.
“It’s very important for the next generation to understand where the food they’re eating comes from,” Mr. Bryden said. “These kids enjoy learning and thinking—attendance has been 100 percent.”