For a decade, Kids Unlimited summer camps have given local, low-income children a taste of activities like basketball, dancing, music and art.
This year, campers can literally taste the fruits of their labors while farming an acre of east Medford land and cooking vegetables on site.
The Farm-to-Kitchen Youth Project needs volunteers. For information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Look at those giant onions," exclaims Cody Kroker, 8, of Medford, returning from the field at Hillcrest Orchard.
"Don't they smell good?" asks 10-year-old Dawson Hoover, of Central Point, as he hefts a stainless steel bowl toward an outdoor kitchen that produces lunch for the 34 kids and their instructors.
"We're cooking a stir-fry today," says 8-year-old Olivia West, of Medford. "And peas, I think."
A collaboration with Hillcrest Orchard, neighboring Dunbar Farms and RoxyAnn Winery, Ashland's Eagle Mill Farm and Rogue Disposal and Recycling, the Farm-to-Kitchen Youth Project combines lessons in agriculture, health and cooking in hands-on settings from the field to the table. About 70 grade-schoolers will make twice-weekly visits to the vegetable patch over two months this summer, says project co-director Alyssa Jumars. Field trips also will bring another 200 or so middle-schoolers to the farm on Fridays, she says.
"This is really a plot of land that they get to have some ownership in," says Tom Cole, executive director of Kids Unlimited.
A concept sown over the winter by David Mostue, manager of Dunbar Farms, the project expands on several years of educational visits to Eagle Mill, Cole says. Given the cost of fuel, Kids Unlimited welcomed the chance to tend a garden closer to home, he says. Eagle Mill pitched in, transplanting its curriculum from Ashland to Medford.
"A lot of these kids don't necessarily have this at home," Cole says.
While one group harvested onions and radishes Wednesday, another set to work weeding.
"We are saving the carrots," says 10-year-old Taylor Vint, of Medford. "The carrot leaves are lacy," she says pointing with a trowel.
"And the weeds are kind of like grass," says Luis Aguilar, 8, of Medford.
The field's lush and speedy growth is the product of compost donated by Rogue Disposal, Mostue and Jumars say. By the time, production picks up later this month, they add, kids will take home canvas bags full of vegetables for their families.
"A lot of these kids probably don't have a lot of access to fresh vegetables at home," Jumars says. "They'll go home with recipes."
Employees of Dunbar Farms will harvest the bulk of the plot and send much of it directly to Kids Unlimited for use in its cooking classes, Mostue says. Summer camp participants receive breakfast and lunch each day at Kids Unlimited.
"It totally fit with what our vision was for healthy food," Cole says.
Farm-to-Kitchen coordinators estimated the project's yield at about 15,000 pounds — approximately $20,000 — of fresh vegetables. That free produce certainly will offset costs for families of children participating in Farm-to-Kitchen, Cole says.
Beyond cultivating children's preference for fresh vegetables, Farm-to-Kitchen aims to teach kids about where their food comes from on a larger, nationwide scale. While explaining how salmonella taints tomatoes, the project demonstrates the value in local food supplies, Mostue says.
"It's so easy because we all respond to the flavor," he says.
"When you pick a carrot straight out of the ground and you eat it ... you don't even need to say anything ... they get the idea."
Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail email@example.com.