“We all need to go back to the kitchen”, states food writer Michael Pollan in his book, Cooked. However, in our current food system, corporations often eliminate the cook in the kitchen with already prepared and processed foods. 4-H is trying to address this problem by not only teaching where the food we consume comes from, but also the skills to prepare food that provide opportunities for creativity and healthy lifestyles.
Amy Sweeney seized the opportunity to get back to the kitchen four years ago, when her daughter, Katie, expressed interest in pursuing a culinary career. Amy searched for opportunities for Katie to learn cooking skills in Sitka, but found that there was no organized cooking activity in Sitka for youth. She was familiar with 4-H’s mission for hands-on, experiential learning and decided to become a 4-H leader and start a cooking club with Katie and other 4th graders.
Katie is now in 8th grade, and club continues to thrive with many of the same members who have been in cooking club since the beginning. The group meets every Monday after school in the Blatchley home-ec room, and has made everything from homemade hamburger buns to “pizza in a bowl." Club members work together in small groups to create the recipe of the day.
Sometimes, the 4-Hers learn the hard way on how to correctly read the recipes. “I accidentally put 1/2 cup of chili powder in instead of 1/2 teaspoon”, stated one cooking club member, while reflecting on his experience making black bean burgers.
The members don't just cook for themselves; Amy sees the importance of connecting food and community. The group has created meals for the Sitka Against Family Violence shelter, and made pies for the Alaskan Native Brotherhood Thanksgiving Community Dinner. The club also recently made food for the Community Kale Celebration hosted by the Sitka Kitch, SCS’ initiative to empower local entrepreneurs. In addition, the club learns business skills by running the Blatchley snack stand as a fundraiser.
Cooking club members make pies for the ANB Hall Thanksgiving.
One of the skills many Blatchley cooking club members learn is greater control over the foods they consume and ingredients they select. “You can find the things that work for you, and the people you are cooking for”, states Amy. In response to why he attends the cooking club, one participant stated, “So that when my parents die, I can still cook.” In an age where many parents cook for their children, these Blatchley cooking club members are getting in the kitchen and sharing creations with others. Cooking is a practical skill that can be shared and taught amongst family members and friends.
4-H members posing with their kale creations during the Community Kale Celebration.
By cultivating a strong local food system and sustainability within the Sitka community, the Blatchely 4-H cooking club highlights the important linkages between food, community, and youth empowerment. A big thanks to Amy Sweeney for leading this awesome group, and fostering a passion for cooking amongst youth in Sitka.