This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
About Food Matters
This special online section of the Notebook takes a look at school meals and the important role they play in providing nutrition to children in Philadelphia, the poorest among the 10 most populous U.S. cities. In Philadelphia, 26 percent of the population, and 37 percent of children – that’s 126,000 children – live under the federal poverty line, according to Shared Prosperity Philadelphia.
This edition is made possible by the generous support of the Leo & Peggy Pierce Family Foundation.
The Notebook is one of 19 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. Read more at https://brokeinphilly.org and follow us on twitter @BrokeInPhilly
Championing breakfast in schools
When Zaire Green, 8, has breakfast at home, his favorite, he says, is “eggs and bacon.”
At his school, Prince Hall Elementary in the West Oak Lane section, he favors cereal but was happily munching apple slices and biting into a wholesome, tasty muffin on a recent morning.
Breakfast is a big deal at Prince Hall, which has an enrollment of 540 in pre-K through 5th grade. Principal Donna Ragsdale says her message to students is: “a healthy breakfast, a healthy life.”
“With a lot of our children, we don’t know what they might have had the night before. Our goal is to make sure they have a healthy breakfast — a fresh start in the morning,” Ragsdale said. “Also, we’re trying to eliminate those bags of snacks coming in from the corner stores.”
Planting seeds for the future: Urban Creators’ summer youth program
Now that the weather is warmer, local community farmers and gardeners have prepared for the growing season. Soon, repurposed vacant lots and green spaces will bear vegetables and fruit for neighbors to enjoy.
In North Philadelphia, Urban Creators — a nonprofit food justice advocacy organization — operates Life Do Grow farm at Dakota and 11th Streets. Its summer youth program at the farm is in its early stages.
Toward the end of May, 30 young people between ages 14 and 21 arrived at the two-acre plot, ready to work. They’ll build fences and a hoophouse, plant and compost, and work within the community to provide healthy food options in what is considered a food desert.
Sweet potatoes, radishes, leafy greens, bell peppers, snap peas and blue corn are just some of the fresh produce that will be available.
“It’s a good project for the community we live in,” said Womp, a local resident who frequents the area to visit family. “And I hope they keep it going to teach the kids in the community a lesson on how to grow fresh vegetables.”
Learning about healthy meals at school
Destiny Crawford, 17, talked of helping with the cooking for an 11-person household.
Sonialys Soto, 15, happy to eat less junk food, talked of helping her mother make healthy meals at home.
Nestor Quiros, 16, eased his way into the world of hummus, calling it “not bad.”
All three students at Kensington Health Sciences Academy are members of cooking clubs designed to teach about healthy, reasonably priced, easy-to-prepare meals. The hope is that what they learn won’t stop at the school’s front entrance, but will be taken home.
Kensington Health Sciences Academy is one of 12 community schools in Philadelphia. Its community schools coordinator, Antonio Romero, said that in many cases, a student is the primary cook for the family while the parent is at work. “It happens more often than you think,” he said.
The Kensington academy is also one of several schools where members of the school community identified healthy cooking and eating as a priority.
District students learn business and make some serious cake
Last year, Rebel Ventures made history.
Its product, the Rebel Crumble — an apple-cranberry breakfast cake — became the first student-produced item to be made available in all District schools.
Now that just about every student in the District is able to enjoy the tasty pastry, Rebel Ventures is extending its reach into local communities by bringing Rebel Crumbles to ShopRite in Parkside.
Rebel Ventures is a student-led nonprofit enterprise supported by Penn’s Netter Center for Community Partnerships.
“I felt good because kids say the things served at school’s are freebies and stuff like that,” said Zaire White, entrepreneurial leader at Rebel Ventures and a junior at Parkway Center City. “So I feel like they’ll think our product is valuable to them because it’s sold in a ShopRite and given to them for free at the school district. So I think they’ll think differently about the product.”