As the winter goes on (and on), some among us are noticing every day the lack of green on the trees, and waiting impatiently for spring to begin showing itself in farmer’s market produce. We at Behind the Book are acutely aware that such an outlook is a privilege, not common among the city youth we work with. Which is why we help run an annual sustainability seminar in the Bronx’s DeWitt Clinton High School. In the dead of winter, as we look forward to Spring, let’s also look back on the fall session of this year’s WITT seminar, and see what fruits it bore.
Last spring, seminar students began a community garden at DeWitt Clinton, run entirely by students, with the aide and guidance of WITT seminar leader and our Teacher of the Year, Ray Pultinas. This fall, students harvested the garden’s first ever yield, and in early November, chef and restaurateur Bill Telepan visited them to show them what to do with it.
First, Mr. Telepan answered students’ questions, describing his life as a chef and restaurant owner, speaking about his passion for cooking, the importance of fresh, locally grown ingredients, and his relationship with local farmers. He also talked about his work with Wellness In The Schools, which teaches cafeteria workers and students how to cook with fresh ingredients.
Following that, in a highly participatory kitchen demonstration, Mr. Telepan transformed freshly picked eggplants, turnips, beets, peppers and other assorted produce into delicious eggplant parmesan, and turnips flavored with cinnamon. Kids who were skeptical to begin with thoroughly enjoyed the outcome, even those averse to vegetables in general. Some even took down recipes to take home, or to publish in the school’s literary magazine, The Magpie. In addition, each student went home with an individual, autographed copy of Mr. Telepan’s book Inspired by Ingredients, purchased by Behind the Book. (That’s where your money goes, folks!)
Later in the month, having read Alissa Quart’s book Branded: The Buying and Selling of Teenagers, seminar students were visited by Ms. Quart, and engaged in a critical conversation about consumption, health, and marketing. Ms. Quart also led students in a primer on persuasive writing, during which students were equipped with an understanding of the composition of a persuasive essay, a topic and a thesis. Student’s attempted their own individual persuasive essays, which they presented to Ms. Quart for feedback during her second visit. Ms. Quart encouraged students to become comfortable with peer reviewing each other’s work , which led to a lively classroom exchange.
The seminar continues all year, with consistent support and involvement from Behind the Book. Come spring, we hope to bring Bill Telepan back to the Bronx, so students can have a chance to pick his brain while they plan this year’s garden. Are we there yet?