The Future of Food
Spice, a name often linked to food in the Cleveland sphere, has created splendid dishes with local ingredients for over a decade. Therefore it's no surprise that their non-profit arm, Spice Field Kitchen, has focused its efforts to educate Clevelanders on growing, cooking and eating what our region has to offer.
Spice Field Kitchen (SFK) started in 2014 in the form of farm tours at Spice Acres in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Since that time professional educator, Steve Baker, took the reins and launched the non-profit to include garden and culinary engagements at Parma City Schools, Urban Squash Cleveland, Tremont Montessori, Strongsville High School, Welsh Academy of St. Ignatius and Feed our Future. Mr. Baker decided to broaden the organization’s reach because he believes, “anybody, at any age, can learn something about food and cooking, and exposure at a young age leads to foundational change in a person’s relationship with food.” Consequently SFK focuses its efforts on teaching youth and families where food comes from, what it takes to produce it, and how to use it. Some of their work can be seen in the form of a learning garden/land lab at Pleasant Valley Elementary in Parma where the students actively plant, nurture, and harvest crops for use in their cafeteria and for cooking demonstrations with Spice Field Kitchen. A recent class helped grow rows of popcorn grown in the garden, then took part in an in-class session to learn where it's grown, where it goes, and how to pop it.
SFK foundationally represents gardening and cooking as lost skills that deserve cultivation. With this level of intentionality, youth are set-up to have positive relationships with food, and make informed decisions regarding their food choices. The skills of gardening and cooking also lead to freedom (not confined by the health ill-effects of high fat/sugar diets), more economic control (cost-effective, nutritionally dense meal-planning is better than fast-food for your body and wallet), and community (quality time spent cooking and eating a meal together). SFK wants to continue to grow in order to reach more people, and see how their lessons land in the development of youth and young families. Mr. Baker notes that his biggest challenge in getting kids to try new foods is overcoming texture adversity. Many kids have not had positive experiences with vegetables; from mushy canned green beans to watery frozen broccoli. He even recalls his own experience coming to terms with beans, after a childhood of continuous bowls of mashed pintos. His advice, be encouraging - “it’s so brave of you to try something new”, and if they do actually try it - make a big deal about it, even if they didn’t like it. “Thank you SO much for trying it” - they will be inclined to try new foods in the future.
Mr. Baker believes that creating food empowered youth today can lead to healthier communities in the future. He notes that food will change. Not only the products themselves, but access to them. He speaks of a story he recently heard on NPR about the future of food. They discussed in great detail underground hydroponics, vertical farming, genetically modified meats, but not once did they mention people growing food for themselves or learning the art of food preservation. We are already growing and accessing food so differently than just ten years ago, but we can not forget how to grow and cook for ourselves.He also notes that as a society we continually try to develop complex solutions to solve our problems, without ever addressing how to prevent the problem in the first place. What do we do with all this food waste? How about we just try to not waste as much food to begin with? That’s why he admires the work of Tilth Soil, the circular approach. It isn’t only about diverting food waste from landfills, it’s about creating compost, for people to grow food in, whose scraps from cooking that food go back to creating more compost. In fact, he utilizes Tilth soil in his garden spaces and specifically in his urban-friendly potato buckets. He has also started many transplants in Tilth soil that he provides to families to use in their own gardens.
Through his work with SFK Mr. Baker hopes that the future of food isn’t restricted to tech-based solutions; but also a fostering of informed and willing individuals intent on connecting to their food by getting their hands dirty and trying new recipes. He encourages everyone to start a small herb pot, use the herbs in a new recipe, enjoy the fruits of their labor, and be inspired to try even more.