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Farm Hub ProFarmer teaches cooking to youth at Kingston YMCA

The scent of onions, peppers and butter ribbons through the hallways of the Kingston YMCA. Tucked inside the YMCA in downtown Kingston, a group of teenagers are all smiles as Nailah Marie Ellis, a ProFarmer at the Hudson Valley Farm Hub, walks them through the steps of cooking red beans and rice and cheddar and jalapeno cornbread.

Today is Thursday and cooking day. 

This spring, as part of volunteering at the YMCA Ellis is working with youth from the Kingston YMCA Farm Project’s youth development initiative. The majority are students who attend Kingston High School. As part of her volunteer work at the Y Ellis also runs this weekly cooking class for youth in the program. She picks recipes that allow for opportunities to teach a variety of cooking skills including sautéing and grating. Susan Hereth, the education director at the Kingston YMCA Farm Project, says a goal is to teach young people the basics of cooking, the importance of fresh local produce, and also career and work skills. The cooking class is also a platform to “use fresh food…and they are always hungry every day after school, and it’s really a safe space to try things and fail,” Hereth says.

Shameer Peters, a freshman at Kingston High School, joined the Farm Project to gain work experience. Growing up he helped his mother out in her garden and credits the program with extending his skills.

“I’ve learned how to seed the plants and help my mother out now even more,” Shameer says. “I’ve always liked cooking so it’s just fun to learn new recipes and try different things.”

At the end of the class the youth, Hereth, and Ellis gather together and enjoy the results of their hard work, topped off by a surprise dessert by Ellis. In recent weeks it has been blueberry pie and today a whoopie pie with a cream cheese filling.

“We love Nailah!” the crew exclaims as they polish off dessert. 

— Amy Wu

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