Growing season: Spice Field Kitchen uses summer plants to teach kids about local food

When Spice Field Kitchen, an educational nonprofit that connects people with their local food systems, launched its Local Lessons for Growing Minds free school curriculum in March, the response among educators and schools was enthusiastic.

50 students from Save Our Children Elyria were at Spice Acres before the July 4 holiday to tour the farm and harvest produce from the Learning Garden. Located on Ben and Jackie Bebenroth’s Spice Acres, a 13-acre farm in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the free curriculum provides students with hands-on learning experiences—both at the farm and through virtual learning—to teach students about local food systems and how to make healthy food choices.

In 2016, the Bebenroths established Spice Field Kitchen as a nonprofit organization to offer education and outreach to students and individuals who want to learn more about farming and cooking. Local Lessons For Growing Minds was subsequently developed in collaboration with grant partners, Feed Our Future, Pisanick Partners, and Muse Content Group to offer the curriculum for free to students, educators, and individuals.

The idea is to cultivate an appreciation for local growers, learn the importance of where their food comes from and connect lesson topics across different STEM subjects.

Steve Baker, Spice Field Kitchen’s Chief Operating Officer“We’ve had 64 teachers or individuals enrolled since we launched back in March, says Steve Baker, Spice Field Kitchen’s Chief Operating Officer who has 20 years as a licensed educator. “We’ve had everyone from Akron to Cleveland Metropolitan School District, and Strongsville. The furthest [school] was from Phoenix, Arizona.”
The lessons include video interviews with local producers, worksheets and activities, and easy recipes the students can try at home.

Now that summer is here and the kids are out of school, Spice Field Kitchen is still teaching kids, and adults, about making healthy food choices and appreciating local produce growers.

Baker says the summer programming that started early this spring is now in full swing. “We are currently up to 71 enrollments in our Local Lessons For Growing Minds online curriculum,” he says. “We just wrapped up latest Climate Action Series [Eat Your Colors, Grow Your Minds] with the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.”

Additionally, Baker reports that 50 students from Save Our Children Elyria were at Spice Acres before the July 4 holiday to tour the farm and harvest produce from the Learning Garden. 

Ben Bebenroth, Chef, Farmer and Founder of Spice Catering Co. “This season is moving right along,” he says, adding that a class from Akron Public Schools that came to Spice Acres this past spring to help transplant young corn plants will be returning later this month for a first-grade summer camp. “Fortunately, since we successfully transplanted corn this year, we are well on our way to have mature corn ready to harvest by July 25,” Baker says of the project.

Baker and his team will be in the classroom with Parma City Schools’ summer camp program this month and  Cuyahoga Community College’s Mandel Youth Humanities Academy will spend a day on the farm touring, cooking, and exploring the theme of “What is Beauty.”

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 20 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.