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Yellow Farmhouse Education Center sows food knowledge for all ages

Stonington — Dozens of chickens at Stone Acres Farm followed Jen Rothman, perhaps ultimately disappointed that she was not feeding them but rather turning off the electric fence, so the second-graders could gather around.

Later, the Harbor School students sat in the yellow farmhouse, paired up to peel the hard-boiled eggs that came from the chickens they had just seen. Farm volunteer Cecilia Sullivan talked to them about the protein in eggs, about what it does for their bodies and brains.

She showed them how to use a mezzaluna, a curved knife with two handles, which helps kids chop foods safely. Each pair cut a farm-fresh egg in half.

"Thank you so much for letting us eat!" one kid told Sullivan on the way out.

School visits are one of the many offerings at the Yellow Farmhouse Education Center, a nonprofit that is housed at Stone Acres Farm, at 381 N. Main St. Students come from near and far in Connecticut: The center has had groups from Stonington, Suffield, Enfield and more.

Most of the visits are high-school groups, said Rothman, executive director of the nonprofit. Their activities might include making butternut squash soup, making ricotta cheese and talking about food waste.

'More likely to try it'

The Yellow Farmhouse Education Center was incorporated last December, and along with school visits, it has since offered kids' cooking classes, professional development for teachers, and special events.

Rothman's background is in farm-based education, having worked as the education director at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Westchester County, N.Y., and the education director at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx.

But not feeling the need to be near the city anymore, she moved to Mystic with her husband and children two years ago.

"We just wanted a community that was in a beautiful spot but had good schools," she said. "I cared a lot about access to the food and farms, small farms, and so this sort of fit the bill."

She began working at Stone Acres Farm to pilot education classes; the farm was founded about three years ago, with the goal of having an educational component.

The idea, Rothman said, is that knowing where our food comes from can help build healthier communities.

She has been running two sections of cooking classes for kids: Little Cooks and Farmers for kids ages 3 to 5, and Culinary Kids for 6- to 10-year-olds.

"Being exposed to different vegetables is really important at that age," she said of the younger group, adding, "When they harvest it and when they cook it, they're more likely to try it."

Classes might involve chopping carrots with a mezzaluna, cutting herbs with kids' scissors, incorporating math skills through measuring and doing a taste test of different apples.

The fall session ended earlier this month, and classes will start up again in January.

Rothman also holds professional development days for teachers. She said the one coming up on Tuesday, called "The Family Meal," probably will be about half culinary teachers and half early childhood development teachers.

Teachers will participate in a barn-raising, cook and sit in on a panel with the founder of Brigaid, the New London schools' lunch program; an Oyster Club chef; and a Rhode Island livestock farmer.

On Nov. 10, the center will hold a five-hour workshop on preserving family recipes, featuring Dawn Perry, the food director at Real Simple. It will include a morning harvest, preparing a fall lunch and a discussion of passing down family food traditions.

Looking forward, Rothman's goal is to "expand certainly our children's programs and adult cooking classes, and become sort of a place where people will gather to create and share meals." She also is building a partnership with the Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center.


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