Voices in Education: Michelle Dudley, food educator at Crossroads Community Food Network -- Gazette.Net


Can you tell me about Crossroads Community Food Network?

It is an offshoot of Crossroads Market [at the meeting place of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties near New Hampshire Avenue and University Boulevard]. In 2007 they had the idea of an open-air market where you could interact with the farmer and accept all forms of payment: food stamps, WIC coupons, etc., making healthy, fresh foods available to everyone. It was started by the people who worked at the Takoma Park market.

I started in May 2008 as market manager, in charge of set-up and break down and organizing cooking classes.

It’s more than a market, it’s a community gathering space, a place to make food and nourish people.

So how did that work transition into an involvement in the schools?

I piloted the first program in 2010 at Rolling Terrace Elementary School [Takoma Park]. I am still there and at Piney Branch Elementary School [Takoma Park], working mostly with fifth-graders.

I consider myself a food educator. I bring in foods from our vendors and we talk about them and where they come from. It’s important for kids to have a connection with the food that sustains us. I have farmers come into the classroom, too. Then we cook. It’s an after-school program at Rolling Terrace and at Piney Branch they fit it into their mid-day curriculum. I’m there every week but there are so many classes the students don’t get [the class] every week.

I think it’s important to think about food and think about the people who grew it. There was a period when it wasn’t cool to farm and have farming as a career. I live on a farm. It’s a livestock farm but my hobby is growing vegetables.

Do you have a favorite vegetable?

They all are ... beets, kale, garlic. There is one kind of kale I bring into the classes, it’s called “dinosaur kale” [because of its bumpy leaves]. I try to make it fun and make it colorful. We do more prep than cook, they all get into it together. I don’t go away with any leftovers so I’m often surprised. One thing they most respond to is the fresh taste. It’s cool for the kids to see that.

Do you have plans to continue or expand this program?

We would definitely like to continue to do this but we’re not sure how to make it sustainable. It’s free and we have to limit it to 20 students per class. At Rolling Terrace where we piloted the program we worked with the Spanish Immersion program. We felt it was such a successful program that we wrote a grant through the city of Takoma Park and got accepted so we could start the program in English at Piney Branch.

My program is not connected through the school lunches, that doesn’t feel like an easy in for us. You can’t just show up and say put this in your cafeteria. Though in 2011 Rolling Terrace started a salad bar.

What do you see for the future of this program or others like it?

My vision would be to help people in the Crossroads Community reconnect with their traditional, cultural foods. They are mostly Latino and African communities. My wish would be to help inspire people to eat better. Our American diet is awful. Anything is healthier than processed or packaged foods. I think the statistic is that the American diet is 75 percent packaged or processed.

It’s been a long food journey for me. I am the granddaughter of farmers, I went through the college food and body image [problems]. Now I like to connect with people around food. It’s basic: food and people.

Do you have advice for kids?

Eat a rainbow. Eat some kind of raw or cooked vegetable everyday.

“Voices in Education” is a twice-monthly feature that highlights the men and women who are involved with the education of Montgomery County’s children. To suggest someone you would like to see featured, email Peggy McEwan at pmcewan@gazette.net.