Tucson Village Farm, a Pima County farm that teaches children how to grow and prepare fresh food, is getting support from a local charity to help build a teaching kitchen.
Angel Charity, a Tucson-based nonprofit, is giving $445,000 to the farm, a program of University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, 4-H Youth Development and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
"The Angel Charity Culinary Educational Center for children will allow Tucson Village Farm to further enrich and expand our programming to reconnect children to a healthy food system," said Elizabeth Sparks, 4-H Youth Development assistant agent.
The center will feature a working kitchen where youth can take what they have picked in the garden and learn how to prepare it. The state-of-the-art, health department-approved commercial kitchen is designed to teach children of all ages.
"This culinary education space is the missing piece of our farm-to-table programming that will ensure TVF operates sustainably for many years to come. It is in this space the children in our community will learn to create healthier lives for themselves and their families," said Leza Carter, founder and program coordinator of Tucson Village Farm, which is able to keep its fees low thanks to donations and grants such as this one.
The farm's team went through several steps of a rigorous process before being selected as one of Angel Charity's four finalists. Ultimately, the grant was awarded by a vote of Angel Charity members.
"Their presentation knocked it out of the ballpark," said Carla Keegan, Angel Charity 2018 general chair. "And their grant application was outstanding."
Keegan noted that the committee was most impressed by "the number of schools they serve that come and do field trips, and the number of children impacted."
Thousands of schoolchildren visit Tucson Village Farm each year on field trips or through summer camps, which are offered to students of all grades, from preschool to high school. In 2017, the farm delivered 44,851 hours of direct programming to 12,913 Pima County children.
Tucson Village Farm is home to several other programs designed to build healthier communities. Teens can take advantage of the 4-H Healthy Living Ambassadors program, where they learn about healthy living and take that education back to their middle and high schools. Families benefit from the Food Smart Families program, which engages parents and children while teaching healthy food choices, cooking skills, and food budget and management strategies. The farm hosts internships and learning opportunities for UA students, as well.
Groundbreaking is expected to take place this summer, with a ribbon-cutting planned in January 2019 to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the groundbreaking of Tucson Village Farm. As a Cooperative Extension program, one of Tucson Village Farm's missions is to take what UA experts know about science and share it with the people of Arizona.
Keegan said that in addition to being a great program, participants learn about science, as well.
"When the kids on the farm see something grow and see the growing phases of it, and pull it out of the ground, wash it and eat it — it's like a miracle to some of these kids," Keegan said. "The only way to get kids interested in any type of science is if you find something that appeals to them, and this is hands-on and appealing."