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Marshall V. King
Marshall V. King writes about restaurants and local food issues. And a lot about what he eats.

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New program puts focus on growing food and healthy kids

The Boys & Girls Club of Goshen has formed a new garden to get kids excited about eating healthy food.

Posted on May 31, 2014 at 6:48 a.m.

Adrianne Penner smiled as the children at the Boys & Girls Club of Goshen worked with staff members to put plants in the dirt.

"They're outside. Their hands are in the dirt. And they're learning. It just doesn't get a whole lot better," she said.

Penner has been around the world. She's fought off a brain tumor. She worked to make sure food pathways between countries worked as they could.

But she's also taken on the task of trying to get urban kids to eat broccoli. And now she's having them plant a garden so that they see what it means to plant, tend and harvest food.

In September, the board of the Goshen club that’s part of Boys & Girls Clubs of Elkhart County agreed to focus on health and wellness of the young people.

Since then, the snacks in the tiny cafeteria at the Goshen club on the north side of town have gotten healthier.

And one day, she saw no one was eating the raw broccoli.

She sat down and told the children they were eating calcium so they have strong bones.

"It's reframing it for them," she said.

She's an optimist. Reframing doesn't always work, but Penner believes that someone has to take that risk for the kids of our community. "If we don't take that risk," she said, letting her sentence trail off. And then she pronounced, "It's a risk worth taking."

Last year, a few of the hundreds of kids who go to the Goshen club helped in a plot at the Chamberlain community garden.

One of the young people told her he or she wouldn't eat a tomato because it had been outside.

She hears stories about kids who live primarily off processed foods bought in convenience stores and put in microwaves.

So this year, after the club bought a lot next door and tore down the house, four raised beds were put in. And on Wednesday, the young people were putting plants in the soil.

Mason Yoder was making jokes about whether chickens have anything to do with eggplants.

But he was also speaking wisdom about fruits and vegetables. "When you grow them, they're not drowned in corn syrup like when you buy them," he said.

Gavin Fulkerson talked about how his favorite vegetable is lettuce.

I wanted to hug the kid.

Some school programs gave children a chance to eat different kinds of fruits and vegetables, said Juliana Yoder, Mason's sister.

Robert Gunn, one of the leaders of the Garden Club, said he loves fruits and carrots. He's grown up learning to eat the stuff.

"We can teach children how to grow their own food," he said, adding that it tastes better when you grow it yourself.

Robert is wise too. If that's the kind of stuff you learn at the Boys & Girls Club, where 300 to 400 kids go after school, I've got to hang out there more.

Penner and her staff bring their hearts to work and show up for the kids of Goshen. The same happens in classrooms and other settings around our community.

For Penner, the journey to that garden on the north side of Goshen started when she was a 16 year old who had been caught in a riot at a hospital complex in Haiti. As she lay in the dirt, she watched Haitian children picking up grains of rice that had been scattered in the dirt.

That moment has shaped much of her life, she said.

She saw the power of moringa and echinacea to help HIV/AIDS patients in Malawi.

Penner served in a food program for World Vision, and she studied how food pipelines worked and didn't as countries tried to export or import food.

She had a brain tumor removed in 2009, and the treatment healed some things but made it difficult to process wheat, sugar, gluten, dairy and soy.

No wonder she's passionate about fresh vegetables. And she told me how much she wishes for a restaurant, perhaps the Indian one in Goshen, that doesn't use soybean oil so that she can embrace it. And how she wants to teach kids how to can the vegetables they grow. (She could use some canning jars and volunteers for that.)

The food system in our country isn't focused on health. It's focused on flavor, and there's evidence that industrial food systems get us addicted to sugar, fat and salt.

We eat too much fast food. We're cutting how much sugar we eat, but still eat too much. And in Indiana, we still import 90 percent of our food.

The Boys & Girls Club in Goshen is serving more than 300 snacks every weekday and more than 100 hot meals as well.

Our kids deserve more than chicken nuggets.

What if more of our school lunchrooms bought local produce rather than opening boxes of frozen, breaded meat?

I don't have kids. But I watch friends tell their children "to at least take one bite" of something potentially objectionable. As a food writer, I tend to say the same thing.

So when Penner says she wants a farmers market on the lawn of the Boys & Girls Club and asks how those of us on the Goshen Farmers Market board can help, I want to help.

And I want to figure out how to help our community's children eat better.

Roy Choi, a Los Angeles chef who helped start the food truck movement in the United States, lamented that kids in the ghetto eat “corrosive, chemical waste.”

He said many children, particularly in urban settings, don't have access to anything but processed foods.

"In America, we lie to our kids that carrots help their eyesight. It's not true," he said. "We lie to ourselves that food is accessible to everyone. It's not true. It's not true."

If our children eat better, they'll be healthier.

If they're healthier, they'll be more successful.

If they're more successful, our community will thrive.

So yes, I want to be part of this conversation. And I want to help figure this out. And I want kids to eat their vegetables, and by their vegetables, I mean the ones they're helping grow.

Penner wants to teach kids how to can the food too. She said she could use some canning jars and people to help teach that.

"Imagine a couple years from now when this entire lot is a garden," she said. "How fun will that be?"

I'm hungry. Let's eat.

Marshall V. King is managing editor and food columnist for The Elkhart Truth. You can reach him at 574-296-5805, mking@elkharttruth.com, on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.


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