Twelve high school students stood inside a makeshift kitchen on a one-acre farm in Edmonston, preparing a dish they might have had hundreds of times before — pizza — but this time, it was going to taste a little different, fresher, they said.
On June 24 at Eco City Farms, an urban farm and food education nonprofit, students in the Seed to Feed program cooked the Italian dish using organic ingredients, some of which were taken directly from a two-acre plot.
“I’ve never seen a pizza start from scratch before. I’ve seen it on television, but actually doing it, I’ve never seen it like that,” said Diego Datiz-Citron, a rising sophomore at Bladensburg High School.
Seed to Feed is a six-week summer program that teaches students about sustainability and healthy eating through hands-on assignments, such as cooking projects, poetry workshops and field trips.
“The whole idea is that young people will learn everything, not only about cooking and growing food,” said Margaret Morgan-Hubbard, founder and CEO of Eco City Farms.
Eco City Farms has received $350,000 in funding from Kaiser Permanente to helping maintain the farm and support programs like Seed to Feed, according to Shana Selender, a spokeswoman at Kaiser Permanente. The nonprofit launched in 2009 and has been running Seed to Feed since 2010.
“It’s all part of helping them be more articulate and outspoken in things they’re committed to and passionate about,” said Morgan-Hubbard, a Hyattsville resident.
Camp members meet daily, splitting their time between the Edmonston farm and a newly opened 3.5-acre plot in Bladensburg, adjacent to the Autumn Woods Apartments on 57th Avenue.
Students attend the camp for free; some receive hourly wages or community service credit for their contributions on the farms.
Most students come from the Port Towns Youth Council, a community-based student government group. Two are residents of Autumn Woods Apartments.
According to the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a nonprofit research and public policy institution based in Washington, D.C., 69 percent of Prince George’s County residents are overweight or obese and 48 percent of children are overweight or obese.
Morgan-Hubbard attributed rising obesity numbers to the inaccessibility of healthy foods.
“A lot of it has to do with the fact that there isn’t healthy food access or healthy food traditions out here,” Morgan-Hubbard said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines Autumn Woods Apartments as a food desert — an area where affordable basic dietary foods are difficult to access without a vehicle.
Viviana Lindo, Eco City Farms’ director of community education, said the students will need time to adjust. Several were unfamiliar with basic ingredients, such as sage and oregano, before enrolling in the Seed to Feed program.
“We have to understand that we’re working with a community that’s been so disconnected to nature, to food in general,” Lindo said.
But after six weeks of the Seed to Feed program, Morgan-Hubbard is confident the students will grow accustomed to healthy eating.
“By the end of the summer, they begin to love the food,” she said.