Every summer, Fresh Roots, a local non-profit organization, empowers youth in the Sustainable Opportunities for Youth Leadership (SOYL) program. Part of the Vancouver School District's summer school, the outdoor education program encourages students to develop leadership skills, cultivate schoolyard farms, and learn about healthy living. One of the program's projects is Community Eats, a weekly meal that students prepare.
The meal lets students build weekly menus, prep food, and learn how to make nutritious lunches by using fresh produce from schoolyard farms at Vancouver Technical Secondary and David Thompson Secondary. "It's at least one good meal [that they can have] in the day," shares Hanah Dhanani, SOYL facilitator. "It brings a sense of community by eating together," she adds.
This year, the 27 participants focused on three areas: farming and nutrition, selling food at local farmers markets, and cooking with local chefs. They rotate between these areas, so every student has a chance to lead a weekly Community Eats meal.
Hamber Secondary student Austin Webber really enjoyed the program last year, so he decided to come back as a mentor. His main goal is to "help the members [at SOYL] achieve, learn about farming, growing, and nutrition, but also push themselves to their limits, to just do a little bit more hard work [in the community]," he says.
Just before each community meal starts, a facilitator leads an eating mantra, where everyone stands up, raises their hands from the floor, and chants: "Yummy Yummy Yummy." When the food is ready, everyone then sits together, takes out their reusable cutlery and containers, and enjoys the meal that includes some of the ingredients they grew themselves.
For more information about the SOYL program, please visit the Fresh Roots website.