According to experts ranging from the Cooperative Extension Service to the American Institute for Cancer Research, kids who know how to cook tend to have a better understanding of nutrition. They tend to eat more fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods. They learn about non-culinary subjects, too, such as basic math. And they grow into adults who can cook for themselves and their families.
“The Jay County Farm Bureau board had always been open to investing in the young people of our community,” explained Connie Muhlenkamp, Jay County education and outreach coordinator. It was therefore not difficult to get the board to approve the idea of an after-school cooking club at local elementary schools.
“They felt it was important to educate students on how the food we raise and produce could be made into delicious healthy snacks and meals that they could learn to make themselves,” she said. “This is a life skill we all can use.”
The result was the Jay County Cooking Club. As a pilot program during the 2018-19 school year, this after-school activity targeted third, fourth and fifth grades at General Shanks Elementary. Buying equipment for the program was made possible by an Indiana Farm Bureau grant. For 2019-2020, a $3,000 Friends of Agriculture grant from the Portland Foundation made it possible to extend the club to third-fifth grade countywide.
For the 2020-2021 school year, no visitors are permitted in schools, and therefore the program went all-virtual. Kids – and their parents – can now learn by watching a series of videos offered over YouTube and Facebook.
Prior to lockdown, Amie Carpenter, assistant nutritionist for the Jay County Cooperative Extension Service, assisted by a group of volunteers, would offer six lessons to groups of 15 students each session, covering topics such as how to use knives safely, how to read a label and simple recipes. Kids who attended all six lessons were awarded a choice of small appliances, bakeware or mixing bowls.
With the YouTube videos, most of the instruction is now done by Farm Bureau members assisted by various youthful helpers – primarily grandchildren – from their own home kitchens. Jay County third-fifth graders who complete six lessons can still qualify for a participation gift by sending photos of their creations to Muhlenkamp.
“God has had a hand in this project the whole time,” Muhlenkamp said. “He has always provided us with the funds and volunteers when needed.”
“Under Connie’s leadership, Jay County has been able to take the Ag in the Classroom program to a whole new level,” said Lindi Kocher, INFB ag education coordinator. “It’s evolved into a virtual delivery of agricultural education to our youth.”
The ideas for the recipes used in the videos come from the kids who are involved in making the videos.
“We asked them for their favorites,” Muhlenkamp said. Among the recipes currently being offered are PB&J Roll-Ups, Egg in a Hole, Protein Bites and Chocolate Chip Apple Dip.
While the videos were originally seen as a temporary measure in response to lockdown, Jay County is now considering making them a permanent part of the program.
“If we get a good response, we’ll keep it up,” Muhlenkamp said.