Garden Kitchen Lab

The Garden Kitchen Lab is a backyard-to-table STEAM educational program for underserved communities. Our mission is to give youth access to healthy and locally grown food through starting and sustaining food-producing gardens. This hands-on multi-disciplinary program puts the power in the hands of community children, so they understand the link between food production and the environment, and take ownership of their health.


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Winter Garden Kitchen Lab

Biologist and Natural Science educator Monica Franchy visits St. John’s and offers a one-day digital and culinary class.
Ms Franchy shows the children showed videos about how almonds grow from the perspective of a bee, the origins and nutritional benefits of the almonds, etc. and taught the kids how to make almond milk from scratch and prepare a blueberry smoothy.

The After school children filled a Q&A afterwards, so we could assess how much they did absorb from the lesson. This was a pop-up class and pilot for future Garden Kitchen Lab curriculum-building where we would like to have kids record what they learn into visual digital diaries.

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The Garden Keeps On Giving

The summer camp students designed a series of collages and drawings of what they saw and experienced in the garden, they used traditional and digital media to create their pieces.

The following are some the kid’s observations:

“Today I am so excited because we actually got to make a quinoa salad. First we were taught that quinoa comes Peru and Bolivia. Then we went downstairs and got to harvest some of the ingredients that we are using to add to the quinoa. After we went to the kitchen and started. First we chopped up the chives, then shredded the parsley and chopped the peppers. Last was the avocado. While we were chopping Ms. Fabiola was cooking the quinoa. We used a big tray to put the lettuce on the sides of the tray. Then we poured the quinoa and added the parsley, sweet peppers and avocado. Then we ate the delicious quinoa and stuffed ourselves.”

“What I did today is to harvest chives and parsley. Then we added the quinoa, avocado, red peppers, chives and lettuce. We added strawberry vinaigrette, salt and olive oil. I thought it tasted awesome.”

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July: Seeing it Grow In So Many Ways

We ended the Spring Session with the afterschool students releasing Monarch butterflies, and celebrating an early harvest. The students prepared a salad with strawberries, cucumbers, tomatoes, chives, Swiss chard, three types of basil, Italian oregano, spearmint and chocolate mint. The children were introduced to shiitake mushrooms; which they had not eaten before.

Here some of the observations the kids wrote on their journals:

Madisyn, 9 years old
“We planted and watered the plants and we watched them grow. We had a plant named Bessie, she was a lettuce, but she died because we planted her in the winter. Now Bessie is compost, so she is not dead anymore.” […] “I enjoyed planting because we got our hands dirty and that is what makes a good artist.” […] I learned that compost is good for the plants because it helps them grow more.”

Amir, 8 years old
“I learned that there are thousands of plants and that worms are good for plants and make their roots stronger.”

Alissa, 10 years old
“I enjoyed composting because we get to make it ourselves and we stirred it. I learned that red worms have five hearts and are good for plants because when their poop gets absorbed by the plants and makes them stronger. You can make compost with egg shells, banana peels, avocado and put it in a bin. We also made quinoa salad. The ingredients to make the salad are red pepper, avocado, parsley, lettuce. You chop everything an mix it with the cooked quinoa. Quinoa comes from Peru and Bolivia. The peasants are the ones who grow quinoa.”

Daica, 8 years old
“I enjoyed composting the most because you get to see how something is after hours and hours. What I learned in the garden is that you can plant new things and improve them.”

Ugochi, 9 years old
“I chose composting because I got to get stuff as food scraps to put in the compost bin. We planted flowers so when the bees come to get pollen from the flower it spreads the pollen to a plant.” […] “We add avocado, red pepper, parsley and lettuce. You mix the ingredients to make quinoa salad.”

Holiday, 7 years old
“I learned to plant and compost. Composting is when you put things together like tomatoes and egg shells. We planted flowers to attract bees.”

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June And Harvesting Already!

The kids have been working in the garden almost every afternoon. They have learned how to plant, how to use the tools properly, how to measure and distribute the plant area correctly, so when plants grow are not so close to each other. They really like to use the weed grabbers and have been cleaning out the area from weeds quite well.

We yield 10 pounds of vegetables already! The kids harvested lettuce, parsley and chives. With some of the produce we made a quinoa salad for twenty five kids. The children washed the veggies, chopped the chives, red pepper and the parsley. We mixed everything with organic quinoa, avocado and strawberry vinaigrette. The children loved it and everyone had seconds! An additional lesson about where does the quinoa grain comes from and who grows it was also part of the class.

The kids completed their journals writing about their experiences planting, composting and cooking. Grabbing food scraps and shredding them before adding them to the compost and looking for red worms were some of their favorite activities.

We continued planting for an early fall harvest: Radicchio, mesclun lettuce, pole beans, red bell peppers and butternut squash. Herbs and flowers: anise hyssop, lemon balm, royal blue veronica, milkweed, lambada, cosmos, flanders poppy, portulaca and honeysuckle to attract bees and butterflies.

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April & May: Time to Plant & Reflect

During the last five weeks the kids have been planting and seeing their seeds grow. We are growing carrots, beets, two different kind of lettuces, cucumbers, Habanero peppers  —these are part a seed exchange program with the Global Partner Junior group in Mexico City, bok choy, onions, eggplants, chives, strawberries, chocolate mint, parsley, lemon thyme, rosemary, lavender, spearmint, oregano, winter squash, basil, Thai basil, mint, golden thyme, Italian oregano, red peppers, yellow peppers and different types of heirloom tomatoes from seeds the kids saved last year.

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Quinoa Salad by Illari

Illari, a seven year old from Peru shows students how to prepare a quinoa salad 🙂  First step boil water, once the water is boiling add the quinoa. For two cups of quinoa use four cups of water and add salt to taste. Chop one sweet red pepper and a two handfuls of celery into very small pieces. Once the quinoa boiled use  a strainer to discard the water and pour it to a large bowl to cool it down. Add the pepper and the celery. Use a blender to dissolve the pulp of two passion fruits and use a strainer to keep only the pulp. Add it to the quinoa mix. Add salt and olive oil to taste. Mix one avocado with olive oil and salt and use it to garnish. This recipe serves ten people . Through this activity the children learned quinoa grows in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador and Colombia and that it needs high altitudes to grow. With the aide of a world map the children located these countries and understood how quinoa is harvested. They also tasted passion fruit for the first time. It was beautiful to see how the kids where inspired by another child to prepare something new and how receptive they were to new tastes.

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Foraging in Crown Heights

The Garden Kitchen Lab children went foraging to the Harmony Park, and learned about the African Blue Basil flower, a plant pollinated by bees and which is good to eat raw, and a great addition in salads and cooked lentils. Nettles! An amazing plant to make delicious pesto! It is incredible that this plant grows wild in city parks and forests upstate, these leaf tastes like basil and you can tell why is it used to make pesto, is really really good in flavor. And finally Dandelions, the entire plant is edible and super nutritious, but this time we only tried the flower, the children loved it! It is a sweet in flavor and I find it to taste like squash. Dandelions produce copious amounts of nectar and pollen and are an important source of food for bees. These flowers pollinates itself. After foraging we went to the center’s kitchen and had chopped mango with Dandelions and African Blue Basil.

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