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Youth Stewards in the Kitchen

Tilth Alliance’s Community Kitchen Meals program is based at Rainier Beach Urban Farm & Wetlands in South Seattle, and celebrates the diversity of food and food cultures in our neighborhood. Each month we partner with local home cooks and chefs to host an educational, cross-cultural event centered around a nutritious, delicious, and locally sourced meal. Read on to learn the stories and enjoy the profiles behind these meaningful events, and at the end you’ll find a recipe booklet to enjoy as well.

Photo by Timothy Aguero

We typically work with one guest chef a month, but this August we teamed up with our Rainier Beach Youth Stewards program to work with all 14 of the South Seattle teens as our guest chefs. And what an amazing event it was! Tilth Alliance’s Agricultural Production & Youth Employment Director Suez Gebretsadik, who leads the Youth Stewards with care, has been working with the program since 2011.

The Rainier Beach Youth Steward program is a youth employment program where youth ages 14-18 gain job experience through hands-on wetland restoration and farm education. Participants spend each week in the spring, summer, and fall at Rainier Beach Urban Farm & Wetlands learning how to steward our land by planting, harvesting, washing and packing produce, managing the fields, restoring wetlands, working at our farm stand, and more. This summer, for the first time, our Community Kitchen Meals program and Youth Stewards program teamed up to bring their farm work to the table.

The Youth Stewards worked together to cultivate a menu and event that reflected their cultures and passions, as well as the skills they’d been honing and the produce they’d been growing. Our first step was having a conversation about each of our food cultures at home, and our experiences and skills in the kitchen. The adults shared first to initiate some trust and lead by example, and the teens were assured that they only needed to share what they felt comfortable with. Eventually the stewards participated with courage and vulnerability, learning a lot about each other that day.

For instance, we learned that this summer our Youth Stewards have lineage from all over the country and world. Some are first generation immigrants from East Africa and Central Africa. Some are from the Indigenous Cham people of Vietnam. Several are Mexican American and Black, and several have mixed Asian and Asian Pacific ancestry. Our goal was to have everyone feel represented and participate in creating the meal in some way.

A lot of the stewards had experience helping at home in the kitchen, and they were all excited about what we could create together. We discussed a range of ideas, making a long list of possible menu items like Mexican ratatouille, BBQ, and sushi. After much conversation, and even some uproarious and funny debate, we decided on a nutritious and delicious menu featuring main dishes of chicken adobo with rice, lentil sambusas, esquites (Mexican street corn salad), and Vietnamese spring rolls. For dessert we chose lime and blackberry coconut paletas (fruit popsicles). Dinner was served with a refreshing berry herbal iced tea made with herbs harvested from the farm.

With our menu settled, we needed recipes — and we didn’t want to just use recipes straight from the internet, either. The Youth Stewards called their parents, aunties, uncles, and grandparents for advice. They took notes at home and discussed the possibilities with each other back on the farm. They got feedback and guidance from the Community Kitchen manager and worked hard to write their recipes with as many details as possible. As we cooked together, we took notes of adjustments made for taste and texture, finalizing our recipes in the kitchen as the meal was prepared.

It took an entire week to prepare all the food. In total, the stewards made approximately 200 lentil sambusas, assembled over 100 spring rolls, cooked two giant pots of adobo, harvested 5 pounds of blackberries and herbs for the paletas and tea, and shucked 96 ears of corn for the esquites. Everything the stewards didn’t harvest themselves came from other local, BIPOC-owned farms.

Some of the stewards were surprised by how amazing the food tasted, but it was no surprise to those who helped them plan the meal. Everyone’s heart and hard work paid off! We had 67 community members join us for the dinner and they were not shy in showing their appreciation and admiration. Folks were lining up for seconds before everyone got firsts! The food was just that good. A handful of the stewards had their families join and got to share their work with mothers, fathers, grandparents, siblings, aunts, uncles, nieces, and nephews.

Photo by Timothy Aguero

Before the meal, the stewards led the attendees in multiple activities including tours of the farm, a scavenger hunt, an herbal tea making workshop, a transplanting demo, a chalkboard mural, and a community survey. By the end of the event, the attendees got a chance to see so much of what the stewards had been working hard on all summer.

Later, we discussed how it all went and asked the stewards to share how proud they were of themselves by holding up their fingers – one being the least, ten being the most. Most of the stewards held up all ten fingers. Watching young people hone and share a sense of pride might be one of the best parts of these two programs coming together.

We’re so proud of the Rainer Beach Youth Stewards, and all the love, teamwork, cross-cultural connections, and hard work they put into this event. If you want to try your hand at their delicious and nutritious recipes, download the recipe booklet here.

Photo by Timothy Aguero