Most parents agree that cooking's a necessary life skill for kids old enough to be left alone in a kitchen. Sybil Fix takes that idea one step further. As the founder and director of Terra Summer camp, she believes learning about food and cooking can raise children's consciousness and teach them much more than how to fill their bellies.
"It came to me that food is a way of teaching all disciplines — geometry, geography, history, science and more — especially to middle-school aged students," says Fix.
For the past year, Fix has integrated her philosophy of food into the curriculum of her cooking camp for 11- to 14-year-olds. Terra Summer's new building perches on acres of farmland in Mills River and includes a spacious professional kitchen with workspace galore, land for student plots, an exterior wood stove and lots of experiential learning opportunities. The camp will run for two four-week sessions next summer.
In the meantime, Fix started offering monthly classes at Terra Summer in December, primarily as a way "to bring people into the building and connect children with food."
In January, 20 kids — each accompanied by a parent, grandparent, or other adult mentor — spent an afternoon learning to make three classic comfort food dishes: vegetarian pot pie, macaroni and cheese, and apple popover on a stick, which chef and food historian Barbara Swell calls an apple lollipop.
Under the tutelage of Swell and Mark Rosenstein, former owner and chef of The Market Place Restaurant, the students peeled veggies, pinched pastry, and mixed pasta with béchamel sauce and cheese. The students got to taste the results of their work, and even made a couple take-home meals for themselves. While the students worked and watched, Swell and Rosenstein talked about ingredients, food history, home gardens, food chemistry and why people shouldn't be afraid of making piecrust.
Henry Beckett, an 11-year-old from Hendersonville, took both the comfort food class and the inaugural cooking class in December led by Rosenstein. "I like the classes because they're all vegetarian. They're teaching you how to cook using stuff you can grow," Beckett says.
Fix, a former journalist turned education reform researcher, grew up in Italy and is passionate about all aspects of food. In addition to Terra Summer, which offered its first camp session last summer, Fix plans to open a rigorously academic middle school, called Terra School. The school will build its curriculum around food — not just growing and cooking it, but on the economic, social, environmental, political and ethical issues related to food and its production. Fix currently is looking for property and funding and aspires to have the school up and running by 2012.
Yes, Fix aims to teach kids to cook, but at heart, she's a food activist. She sees the production and preparation of food as a portal to teaching children about themselves and their world.
"I want to offer activities that plant seeds of consciousness that the students can carry on to other parts of their lives," she says.
Upcoming kid cooking classes: dough-making with Barbara Swell in February, cooking with vegetables in March.
Terra Summer camp — Session 1: June 14-July 9; Session II: July 19-Aug. 13, 8:45 a.m.-3:45 p.m., Monday to Friday; $880 per session. Visit www.terrasummer.org or call 782-7842 to apply. Scholarships and transportation options are available.
Anne Fitten Glenn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.