Space to Erase Hunger
By Sally Baho
In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic—during which demand for food in Monterey County has quadrupled and one in three children are hungry—building resilience is essential. And resilience is the premise behind 5-Acre Farm and Kid’s Food Fix, an innovative, new initiative at the Food Bank for Monterey County (FBMC) that puts children at the center of a hands-on learning experience and uses healthful food to engage them on multiple educational levels.
Headquartered in Salinas, FBMC is a nonprofit that provides food to over 160 organizations across all 3,700 square miles of Monterey County and serves 60,000 families each month. It has distributed more than 30 million pounds of food this past year. At the schools served through the Food Bank’s Kids N.O.W (Nutrition on Weekends) program, 90 percent of the children live in poverty and 33 percent are homeless.
Executive Director Melissa Kendrick has transformed the FBMC with a new state-of-the-art green building that can safely store fresh produce and other nutritious foods. She is passionate about improving health and nutrition in Monterey County, where 76 percent of county residents are obese or overweight and rates of Type 2 diabetes have soared to staggering levels across all age categories, including among children.
The 5-Acre Farm program will yield year-round fresh produce and provide opportunities for children to participate in the entire farm-to-table process. It will feature a science classroom, demonstration kitchen, and pediatric diabetes program, and five acres of organic growing space. Built with the values of nourishment, stewardship, and community in mind, the space and its programs will encourage intergenerational gardening, cooking classes, and nutrition education to engage children and families, model healthy habits, and build the foundation for a healthy lifestyle. “It’s different when kids make a pizza with vegetables they have harvested,” says Kendrick. It invokes the adage, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
The program’s curriculum aims to inspire curious, engaged students who will learn to be lifelong advocates for healthy living. In the kitchen classroom, children will explore how culture and identity affect a person’s relationship with food and eating. In the garden classroom, students will tend to and oversee all aspects of planting, nurturing, and harvesting healthful fruits and vegetables. The program will be wholly integrated into the students’ academic experiences, from kindergarten to high school.
Kendrick and the staff at FBMC believe that students’ lived experiences outside of school are just as important as their experiences at school, particularly in an area where food deserts are common. To this end, the curriculum will include a pediatric diabetes program that will provide nutrition education, monitoring, and an array of healthy food options to those with the highest risk and least access to resources, including healthy food or healthcare.
FBMC has partnered with renowned local architect Mary Ann Schicketanz, whose studio specializes in innovative, sustainable designs. “We are thrilled to design a totally green, modular space that will inspire children to think and grow healthy—for a lifetime,” says Schicketanz, speaking on behalf of her team.
All of the nonprofits, schools, scout troops, and faith groups that currently partner with FBMC will have access to the new space. Community members of all ages will be able to volunteer at the farm and participate in the activities. “We call this ‘a space to erase hunger,’” says Kendrick, “and it will be a tremendous collaboration opportunity.”
To learn more or get involved, visit foodbankformontereycounty.org.