The Yellow Medicine East Food Science class has been working on a new way of learning how science applies to food preparation for the past year and a half. Councilors Ben Lecy and Darrel Refsland designed the program last year to implement the use of food preservation through techniques such as canning, dehydrating, flour milling and even processing meat to teach students the skills to preserve and prepare healthier foods. During the first semester of the class, the COVID-19 pandemic changed plans, so the class had to be conducted using Zoom technology. Yet after learning how to dehydrate fruit and other similar skills via Zoom, the students wanted to learn more and expressed their hope for two semesters being offered for the class. “There were so many students who wanted to be in the class,” says Lecy. “I worked it out in my schedule so I could teach one semester and Darrel could teach one.”
To help prepare for a larger class with more class time throughout the year, Lecy wrote a few grants and received grants from the Granite Area Community Foundation and Countryside Public Health. Grants were used to purchase a variety of new equipment. “I wrote the grant trying to encompass as many helpful foods that were healthy and would have longevity in the student’s life,” says Lecy. Part of the grant money was used to purchase three new air fryers. “Not for frozen cheese sticks. We use the burger we raise ourselves and show the kids how to make Italian meatballs and things like that,” says Lecy. “Also, the kids don’t eat enough fruit, so some of the grant money went to smoothie makers so we could serve them healthy smoothies. We also picked up extra lids and rings and supplies like that in bulk. They also purchased a commercial grade wheat grinder, premium pressure canners, stainless steel weighted bottom canning jars for hot water canning, colanders and sieves. . “I had a few dollars left over which was used to buy air poppers so the kids could come here and pop some popcorn and get a little healthy snack,” adds Lecy.
Lecy was also able to get the donation of a Pellet Grill from a company after contacting him to inquire about purchasing one. The company representative listened to Lecy’s explanation of what he wanted to use the pellet grill for and was sufficiently impressed with the idea of the equipment used to teach students about food preservation that the representative then asked the company to donate the grill to the district, and so Pit Boss agreed.
Using this equipment, the class was able to grind their own wheat to make pizza crust, their own bread, waffles and pancakes. They also dried their own herbs in the dehydrator and ground them for storage, made beef jerky, canned tomato sauces, pickles and jams. Without a textbook for the class, students are given a stack of recipe cards that they use to keep track of their techniques and recipes. “They were graded making sure they had the recipes and the instructions,” says Lecy. “Once they got it, we would start.” The class started with jellies and jams, with leftover fruit from the school fruit sale. “From there, we made dill pickles, and the kids loved it. We moved on to canning tomatoes, starting with our own pizza sauces. Then, since we had our own pizza sauce, the kids had to grind wheat to make their own crust,” he adds.
During remote learning caused by COVID, Andy Holt, who owns a butcher shop in Sacred Heart, helped slaughter a pig in the school parking lot and showed students how to dry their own ham and bacon. “We smoked them all here in the parking lot with some of the kids, and then we got toppings, so we ground up and made our own Italian sausage with the kids,” says Lecy. As an avid gardener, Lecy also added to her personal harvest to ensure students had a variety of produce to work with, including elderberries for jam and tomatoes for sauces. “If we don’t share these gifts that our ancestors gave us, they go down the drain. It’s the healthiest way, I sincerely believe, of preserving food and at the same time you’re kind of preserving heritage and a way of life. You become self-sufficient, sustainable,” says Lecy. “We learn a lot about how we go from a tomato to dinner. There’s a lot of chemistry involved. We talk a lot, for example, when you talk about tomatoes and acid levels and how to level your pH, you have to use lemon juice and things like that. Children understand that there is a difference between kosher salt, canning salt and table salt – that it does not contain iodine or that it comes in granules of different sizes. We really insist on what you put in your body? How healthy was that? »
Lecy was inspired to teach the class, as he grew up learning skills from his parents and grandparents. “I was lucky to have the coolest parents and grandparents who loved to show you these things. They really wanted you to stand on that Sears and Roebuck catalog in a chair so you could see through it. above the counter and watching how you strain the juice to make jellies and things like that,” he says. “We wanted to bring that back. We want kids to have that opportunity. Some of our kids have never soaked beans or beans and have never done chili beans or anything like that. It’s a whole new experience for them, so that was really eye-opening. They were very impressed with some of those things. Lecy and Refsland noted that many students also don’t have a garden or don’t know where the food they eat comes from.”With all of these things put together and honestly a love for teaching this to the kids we have long ent talked about – if we don’t do it, who will? We owe it to our ancestors,” says Lecy. “They taught us that every child or student we have learns from my parents and grandparents, and the same with Darrel. All these things we learned.
The two hope that students will also gain more than knowledge from the class. “When we first sat down and said what we were doing and why, we wanted to share the knowledge we have, because we see it disappearing and we can’t let that happen, but also the kids are missing something that builds everything – not just your body as a temple in a good and healthy way, but gives you self-esteem and a sense of accomplishment,” Lecy says. “And I always tell kids that you can’t feed a brain unless you feed the body first.”
Students also took their newly acquired skills outside of the classroom. “I don’t know what I’m doing to be blessed with this most amazing class of kids. Everything we started, they took ownership and continued,” says Lecy. Students not only said they tried recipes at home to share with family and friends, but they were also proud to hand out samples of their classroom efforts throughout the school for staff to try. “Maybe I’m biased,” says Lecy, “but I think the class is a huge success. We still have kids who come by every day and say they tried a recipe and it was awesome.
With the success of the class with the students, Lecy is working to develop a community education class, or a class for community members that could potentially take place in her backyard to teach adults some of those same life skills. preserving food from their gardens. He hopes the community will take an interest in such an idea.