As the year winds down, Jenn So looks forward, not back.
Though the Farm Lab has been tucked in for the winter, I can’t help but see the extraordinary potential for growth and learning come next spring. Looking at the empty garden now with the row covers blowing in the blustery winter wind, it is exciting to imagine all of the fruits and vegetables that will be abundant here in the not-so-distant future.
Before I decided to pursue at Masters in Food Studies at NYU, I spent a single life-changing season on a farm teaching children how to cook with vegetables plucked straight from the garden. It was life-changing in that I had never grown anything before in my life and that it was incredible to grow, cook and eat a whole season of produce. While I was teaching children about seasonality, how things grow, and the pleasures of eating something that you, yourself, have grown and transformed into a meal, I was also learning all of these lessons for the first time. In theory, I already knew how important it was to feel a connection to my food in this way, but I really only understood the true joy of the seed-to-plate experience once I actually lived it.
Currently, I work for a food education non-profit called The Sylvia Center. While we are based in New York City, my initial position at the organization placed me our satellite location at Katchkie Farm in the Upper Hudson Valley. There, I spent a season teaching the culinary portion of our farm-to-table educational programs for kids, in an educational garden just a little bigger than the NYU Urban Farm Lab. We grew a diversity of flowers, herbs, fruits and vegetables – this was our produce aisle. After the kids arrived on the farm, they would tour our greenhouses and visit with our chickens and pigs. I would often see them running towards the garden, where they would pick ingredients to bring to our outdoor kitchen.
Learning to appreciate real, homemade food starts early in life. To this day, I have my mom to thank for feeding me so well while growing up, and both of my parents to thank for making meals at the table as a family the norm. These are the roots that have been informing my eating habits, my decisions at the grocery store, and not surprisingly, my decision to pursue a degree in Food Studies.
At the Sylvia Center, many of the kids (and even adults) that attend our programs do not have this experience at home. I see this rooted in a lack of food education and limited exposure to real food. I also see the potential for the NYU Urban Farm Lab to be a part of this solution. Even our location on Houston, simply by being in a high-traffic area where people passing by can see our vegetables through the fence, is a start. Hopefully, as the Farm Lab continues to morph and grow in the coming seasons, we should keep in mind that, as important as it is for us to learn for ourselves, we should also try to use our resources to teach others what we already know: how impactful food can be to our happiness and well-being.