One of our favorite new charities is cooking up a plan to put a kitchen in every classroom. We are so on board!
Carolyn Federman is no stranger to the rewards and challenges of teaching kids about food, having worked with The Edible Schoolyard Project for 15 years. Her newest undertaking, The Charlie Cart Project, aims to get kids of all ages cooking by providing classrooms with the means to make and serve their own meals. We spoke to Caroline about her project and how we can all get involved.
Giada: Thanks for agreeing to chat for our Sharing Issue! Who is Charlie and how did he inspire your mini-kitchen-in-a-cart idea?
Carolyn Federman: Thank you for asking us! The Charlie Cart is a descendent of the original mobile kitchen, his great, great grandpa Chuck. He inspired us to bring an updated chuck wagon to a new generation of education pioneers!
GDL: Describe the cart for us and how it would be used in the classroom. It looks incredibly functional yet amazingly compact.
CF: The cart was designed by Brian Dougherty, my cofounder. His firm, Celery Design, has taken this project completely to heart, so all the graphics, materials, and design itself have been undertaken with a ton of love. The cart itself is about 4-feet long and 2-feet wide, so, yes, it is incredibly compact. It features a double induction burner and a convection oven (thanks, Breville, for donating these unbelievably efficient ovens!) as well as a rinse module with a gray-water-pump system so kids can engage in the critical cleanup phase, and learn about water conservation (critical in California, where we are based). The cart will come fully kitted out with equipment donated by OXO and Williams-Sonoma, enough to teach a class of 30 students; and it will include lesson plans developed by The Edible Schoolyard Project.
GDL: How much does each cart cost? Do you have any plans to produce them commercially? I’d love one for my office, and I can think of a million places a rolling kitchen in a cart like this would be super handy, like a dorm room or hotel room.
CF: We expect they will cost between $6,000 to $8,000 per cart, including shipping and support (lesson plans and training). Once we begin to produce in volume, we will be able to bring costs down. In the meantime, we are exploring ways to subsidize manufacturing through crowdsourcing, donations, foundation grants, and maybe even a 1 to 1 model like Tom’s.
GDL: Where will the first carts be going? What is the reaction from the teachers?
CF: We are thrilled to be launching our program with two districts in California in partnership with FoodCorps California and CAFF, the Community Alliance with Family Farmers.
GDL: What are some of the recipes you’ll be featuring? It’s my experience that kids will eat almost anything they’ve cooked and served themselves, even if it’s something they might not initially think they’d like.
CF: Agreed! It seems like they love it if they have any hand in preparing
it. Our first recipes, which are adapted from the Edible Schoolyard Project curriculum, include spring rolls, panzanella (also known as bread salad or fatoush), frittata, and hand-rolled pasta. In the past we have made ricotta and mozzarella cheese, strawberry-rhubarb pie, confetti soup, hummus and flatbread, tortillas, and dozens of other delicious items that kids never realized they could make themselves.
GDL: Is this essentially a throwback to old-fashioned home-economics classes or are you hoping to reach even younger children?
CF: Yes and yes! Michelle Obama wants to create the home ec class of the future. The Charlie Cart is it! And we need to start younger, too. Kids of all ages can benefit from learning to cook. These classes also teach social skills, like independence and collaboration, and expose kids to things they might never see at home.
GDL: Why do you think it’s so important that cooking be part of the school curriculum; isn’t that something families should be doing together? It seems like the day is already very full, if Jade’s school workload is any example.
CF: Cooking is a great way to engage kids in learning all of their subjects more deeply. When they are engaged with all their senses, as Alice Waters says, they learn tenfold what they might while just sitting and listening. They really take it in. Cooking is also an excellent way to reach kids who might not connect to their studies in traditional ways. Math, science, language arts, and social studies all are easily incorporated into cooking projects, but because the kids are having so much fun, it’s almost like they’re not even at school.
GDL: How is your project related to other school projects like the Edible Schoolyard or Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution? What lessons have you learned from those ventures?
CF: I have worked for Alice Waters for 15 years and she is my mentor and inspiration. No one believes as passionately in this work as Alice, and no one has championed it in the way she has. Alice’s foundation, The Edible Schoolyard Project, is our partner and fiscal sponsor (meaning that until we have our own charitable organization tax-exempt status, they can accept donations on our behalf). The Edible Schoolyard is developing lesson plans for the cart based on their 20 years’ experience building curriculum in the kitchen classroom.
I have also worked with the Jamie Oliver Foundation and appreciate all the incredible work they have done to change school food and to teach people to cook! Jamie makes cooking so much fun.
GDL: How can we help get more Charlie Carts into classrooms nationwide?
CF: Great question!! We need to create partnerships that will provide staffing and funding for the cart. FoodCorps is a great partner—if we could fund carts for each of their sites, we could be in 500 schools overnight. Other organizations that push into schools, such as HealthCorps, could be great allies as well. And of course you can make a donation! Our Kickstarter campaign is going great guns and that funding will get us to our pilot stage and refine the design for mass production.
For more information and to contribute to The Charlie Cart Project, visit: The Charlie Cart Project Kickstarter