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Summer program for teens blends farming, fitness and nutrition

Stacy M. Brown | 8/2/2013, 5:06 a.m.
Seventeen ninth and tenth grade students from five Baltimore City public schools participated in the “Mission Thrive Summer” program created by the Institute for Integrative Health and Real Food Farm, two local non-proftit organizations. (Above) Joey Payne, 15, picks cherry tomatoes from the garden. Gar Roberts

— At the Mission Thrive Summer Program, chalkboards, books and cramming for tests don’t exist. However farming, being one with nature, and yoga does.

This new unique program in Baltimore, where area students are taught how to maintain healthy lifestyles wrapped up this week with many already looking forward to next year.

“The program has helped me in the area of learning how to cook better, how to clean my vegetables and it has exposed me to foods that I had never eaten before,” said Autumn Edwards, a 14-year-old ninth grader from Lake Clifton High School in Baltimore. “I feel so much better about myself now.”

The program is also designed to continue the students learning during the summer break.

Throughout the camp, students are taught how to care for and harvest vegetables while working on the Real Food Farm in northeast Baltimore.

The Institute for Integrative Health created program in collaboration with the Real Food Farm, which gave 17 ninth and tenth grade students from five Baltimore City public schools an outdoor-based education where they learned to incorporate physical activity and communications skills along with planting, caring for the garden and harvesting vegetables.

“We are exposing the kids to things they may not be used to, and giving them new ideas, along with influencing open mindedness,” said Brandin Bowden, the camp’s project coordinator. “I hope the students are able to walk away from this with new, healthy lifestyle choices, but at the same time, I also expect a lot of them to be open to new experiences, new activities and different things that they haven’t been exposed to.”

Molly McCullagh, the education coordinator at Real Food Farm says the program sets students on a trajectory toward optimal, lifelong health and wellbeing and it enables them to become influencers at home and in their schools by modeling healthy behavior for family and friends.

“Students are taught the basics of sustainable agriculture and how food moves through the food system, from farm to waste and they also have to overcome their fears and hang-ups with the environment,” McCullagh said.

Students who are paid for the six-week program, also gain meal planning and food preparation skills and perform daily physical activity, including yoga and mindfulness training, designed to foster mental resilience and the capacity for a peaceful focus, according to Bowden.

“Yoga is one of the reasons I wanted to sign up for this,” Autumn said. “I love Yoga and I really came to like everything else about the camp and I want to do it again next year.”

The program does present its share of challenges to some students and it requires participants to develop writing and presentation skills.

“We do resumes, interviewing skills and other activities designed to help the students,” Bowden said.

The results of the program will be part of a study by a University of Maryland researcher.

“This has really helped me in the area of physical activities mostly because of the different exercises that we do everyday. It helps me to do more to build my body, and I do watch what I eat now,” said Jonathon Edwards, 14, a student from the Baltimore School for the Arts.