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MicroGreens Project: getting rooted in Indianapolis

By Lynn Sygiel, editor, Charitable Advisors, Photo credit: MicroGreens Project

When Colleen Rocap shares her excitement about the MicroGreens Project, she often gets this question: How are you using microgreens in your work? But for Rocap, it’s not about salad shoots; it’s about working with kids whose families are SNAP recipients and teaching them to cook so they can “sprout” change.

“Long story short, it is a program that teaches kids living on a SNAP budget how to cook food for a family of four for $3.50,” she said. “Let’s be honest, if you’re 12, you’re not making most of your food decisions at home, somebody else is doing that,” said Rocap, the local MicroGreens chapter coordinator.

But Rocap believes she can help change that, arming kids with skills and information.

Later this month, she will pilot the MicroGreens Project with 10 to 15 students from KIPP Indy College Prep Middle, a charter school on the city’s Eastside. Ronak Shah, a seventh-grade science teacher, has offered an after-school cooking club. Shah is working with Rocap to launch this effort.

“A lot of these kids have a single mother who works and a lot of the time are responsible for creating meals for their family. While they’re doing that, they can teach their younger siblings,” said Rocap.

In one class a week over an eight-week period, students will learn how anyone can shop for, prepare, and enjoy a healthy meal based on a total budget of $3.50 per meal per family of four.

“In the first class, the kids learn their knife skills and mirepoix. They’re learning how to chop the veggies and do everything safely, and how to use their cutting board. Then we’re taking all that stuff that they prepped, and freezing it to incorporate in the next lesson,” Rocap said.

Lessons use receipts from the closest grocery store to generate conversation about costs and how to stretch dollars.

“It’s nutritious healthy foods, but it’s all based on budgeting. So instead of just buying a packet of chicken that’s already been separated into different parts, we’re saying, ‘Here’s a whole chicken. It costs a lot less.’ We teach them how to take it apart and use over the course of this many weeks and incorporate it into this many meals.

“Buying in bulk is also a huge part of it and then not just telling them how to cook the food, it’s getting them to do it themselves. Giving them the skills, giving them the tools,” she said.

Every student in the program will get a cutting board, chef’s knife and measuring spoons. Under consideration, based on students’ needs, is giving them a crockpot or a cooking pan and a hot plate.

“Some kids don’t even have a stove. Based on what the need is, that’s what we want to give them,” Rocap said.

Started by then D.C. chef Alli Sosna, local wellness coach Rocap learned about the program from a tweet by Michael Pollan, an author and national food activist. She is adapting the program to meet area kids’ needs. Sosna, now based in New York, was in Indianapolis this summer to train Rocap and was a guest at a special event to raise awareness for the newly forming Indianapolis chapter of the MicroGreens Project. It was started to empower children to feel comfortable making healthy choices in the kitchen, at home and at the grocery store.

“The last class is a kind of ‘Top Chef’ final where we put a bunch of ingredients in front of the kids and say, ‘Get creative. However you want to do this.’ They’re all ingredients that they’ve already used and they’re familiar with them. But that’s just kind of like the fun thing they do in the end,” Rocap said.

In this pilot phase, she is soliciting input for the program. Some have suggested doing demonstrations in a grocery store with a different topic and food each time.

“There is just a huge disconnect between, I mean if you have the food available, that’s one thing. But people aren’t going to pick it up, if they don’t know what to do with it,” she said.

Eventually, she’d like to offer the program in community centers and other places where the need is, and maybe involve parents in the course.

If you are interested in learning more about the program, you can reach Rocap via email at rocap.colleen@gmail.com.

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