In late March and early April, two groups of REACH students participated in Health and Wellness Retreats over three days at Fairview Gardens, El Capitan State Park, Santa Barbara Community Farm, and Mesa Harmony Garden.
As part of the REACH program’s four-year mission to impart skills for the transition to productive adulthood, the retreats had six goals:
- Students would get further experience in fundamental cooking skills.
- Students would enhance their Food Literacy, through skills including canning and cheese-making.
- Students would learn how to organize and prepare a dinner for guests, focused on the concept of farm-to-table.
- Students would learn about sustainability through their garden and farm experiences.
- Students would examine the food culture they have at home and with friends, using a food journal, and plan changes they could make in their food choices.
- Students would learn and experience how the food they eat influences their physical health and emotional state.
First day activities included review of the students’ food journals, a tour of Fairview Gardens and the harvesting of food they would cook later, lessons in cheese-making and vegetable canning, dinner preparation, review of their earlier Wilderness First Aid training, setting up camp, and dividing up responsibilities for next two days.
Why The Food Journal Experience? Students were asked to keep a journal of all the food they ate the week prior to this Health and Wellness trip. The objective of the exercise was to help students see the difference between their actual diet and their perceived diet, and to see connections between what they eat, why they eat it, and how different foods affect their physical health and mood. A common trend: Students avoided certain foods because they did not want to write it down. They were not concerned about feeling guilty, because they knew they would not have to share their journal. Students pointed out that the sheer awareness and permanence of writing down the “unhealthy” foods they were eating was enough to make them avoid those foods. REACH does this on the first day of the Health and Wellness trip as an introduction to the importance of paying attention to our food habits, and what can be learned when we create an open dialogue about food.
Day two began with a great introduction to body mechanics from Yoga instructor Melissa Bishop. She created a very accessible yoga routine that students were able to perform completely on their own by the end of the session. Stretching and awareness are essential to safety when students will spend the bulk of their day performing manual labor on service projects.
The students’ community service projects related to Food Systems. One group volunteered for a harvesting project with the Santa Barbara Community Farm. Students spent the afternoon gleaning vegetables for the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County Backyard Bounty Program. They learned how to harvest beets, cabbage, potatoes and carrots. At the end of the day the group delivered five crates of food to the Foodbank, and students expressed amazement that this produce would have been lost to people in need without the help of volunteer gleaners.
A second group spent the afternoon working on a permaculture project with Mesa Harmony Gardens. They installed a large water tank designed to collect rainwater from the neighboring building. The students also dug canals, built swales, and buried approximately 30 feet of pipes to disperse water from the tank throughout the garden. This garden also supports the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County.
On day three, students packed up their camp, and then spent the day at Fairview Gardens, preparing and cooking a big dinner for their families and other invited guests (70 people and 45 people on separate evenings).
On Service and Cooking: These retreats consistently focused on the central role of food in our lives, and how it impacts our relationship with the environment and the community around us. Awareness of food systems easily translates to an awareness of our community. Students were able to give back to their personal communities with healthy food prepared with care, and to the larger community by supporting local non-profit farms that provide fresh produce to the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County.
The service experience gave students an opportunity to see how challenging and rewarding it can be to work on a farm and harvest organic, nutritious food. Students had not heard about the concept of farm-to-table, but by the end they expressed pride in the fact that the produce for the dinner they made for their families had come from only a few feet away.
These retreats built on the first cooking class students attended in March, where they learned basic concepts of cooking and how food impacts the environment/community. This was a great transition from theory to practice. Students expressed new appreciation after experiencing how much work goes into making a meal.
The Orfalea Foundation’s REACH program teaches skills that prepare students for lives of purposeful action, continuous learning, and the courageous pursuit of opportunity. In areas ranging from outdoor experiences to financial literacy, REACH strives to create adults who care for themselves, care about their communities, and create a better future for all.