By Jamie Larson
The Sylvia Center
Program Director Jenn So with young cooks in training.
at Katchkie Farm
in Kinderhook is an excellent example of how our regionally specific “farm to table” philosophy runs deeper than commerce and consumption. The programing provided on site at the farm during the growing season, and now to local children after school, is helping to expand the inclusivity and reach of the local farm and food community that many of us have come to take for granted.
The Center’s latest series of cooking classes brings kids and parents from Hudson, New York’s at-risk community, where food insecurity and lack of access to healthy options are serious and under-addressed issues, into the kitchen at Valley Variety for a free six-week course on how to prepare healthy meals and hone cooking skills.
Jenn So, who leads the classes and is the Sylvia Center’s director of programs, says the classes are a welcome expansion of their mission that, along with their after-school programs in the Hudson City School District, is funded through a generous grant from the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation
“Kids are picky eaters, so we create an environment where we expose kids to what hasn’t worked for them in the past,” says So. “The veggie mac and cheese is one the kids really like. It’s not just the veggies but the addition of a freshly made sauce, too. They see what goes into it. Also, because the class is six weeks, the kids really become confident in their skills.”
The parents say they’re picking up some useful new skills and recipes but are also just pleased to see their kids so engaged and eager to cook.
“She’s really been enjoying the new types of food we’ve been making,” father and EMT William Mackey says of his daughter, as she busily stirs the batter for banana chocolate chip muffins. “We’ve already started eating healthier at home. This makes me much more aware of our options and we’ve learned some new techniques.”
Another aspect So says is rewarding about the Wednesday night class is how it brings together the two halves of the Hudson community that is so dramatically and visibly segregated along racial and economic lines.
“We all know about the gentrification of Hudson,” So says. “One thing that’s special about this class is that, with Valley Variety hosting, it’s a great opportunity for a community that has been displaced to feel comfortable in a space they might not have otherwise.”
The plain truth is that seeing a group of families of color casually enjoying themselves in one of Hudson’s many high-end stores is, unfortunately, anomalous.
“It was always a part of the idea to use the space with the community,” saysd Valley Variety owner Chuck Rosenthal, who’s hosting the classes for free. “So when the Sylvia Center approached us, it was a natural fit.”
The Sylvia Center’s on-farm programing won't get rolling until the plants get growing in the summer time, but their website offers some great examples of their programs worth checking out or donating to. And So says they're always looking for volunteers.
The Center’s work supports a rich connection between community and agriculture in ways that are deep, making foundational connections that, if the kids at Valley Variety are any indication, will last a long, long time.