FOOD AS FUEL FOR MIND AND BODY

RUSSELL LIBRARY, MIDDLETOWN CONNECTICUT

With a $7,500 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, administered by the Connecticut State Library,  the Russell Library purchased a Charlie Cart, a mobile food preparation station, complete with kid-safe kitchen supplies and a curriculum guide full of recipes and tasks to engage young minds and hands in cooking and eating healthier. The Charlie Cart name is a spin-off of the idea of a chuckwagon.

Farmer Luke using the Charlie Cart for a virtual program

The library started its programming in the Fall of 2019 with a program called “Meet the Charlie Cart,” offered first for library staff members and then for potential outside presenters, such as cooks and educators, who would then be able to use the provided curriculum to lead sessions for children. When we started offering programs for the public, we found that 6-8 participants at a time worked best so that everyone could have a food-related project and not crowd too closely around the cart as cooking was taking place.  Topics for some of these early sessions included healthy holiday treats, silly sandwiches, and tasty desserts.  Survey results were very positive!!

Fast forward, and Russell Library, like so many other libraries, was closed from March until late June due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.  The grant deadline was supposed to end on June 30, but we were given an extension. Due to the virus we could not offer any more in-person cooking sessions.  Instead Gail located a couple of wonderful presenters who were both involved with nutrition education.  Both offered virtual programs to document their cooking, and  one accompanied cooking time with story time, and these have been posted on the Russell Library Facebook page. Click here to see a YouTube video of Farmer Luke doing a Charlie Cart demo for the library. Staff post the details of the virtual events on our events calendar, and initial viewings have been around fifty, more participants than are typically reached through in-house programs.

Back-story: Gail Thompson-Allen, recently retired from the Russell Library,  first saw the Charlie Cart at the Public Library Association’s 2018 Conference in Philadelphia. The Charlie Cart Project  was born in 2015 by the former director of the Edible Schoolyard Project and a team of interested and likeminded individuals, including well known nutrition health author Michael Pollen. The kitchen on wheels and its well-developed supplemental guides sparked a programming idea, and Gail pursued ways to bring the Charlie Cart for our library.  When a possible IMLS grant came available Gail applied and received $7500.00 in LSTA funds, which the library matched.  Beyond the purchase of the mobile unit, matching funds were used to obtain nutritionists and other food educators to demo and work with groups of young people as they prepared healthy ingredients for cooking and eating, purchase books on healthy cooking for both children and adults, and account for staff time.

Author: Catherine Ahern, Russell Library, December 2020

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Lessons learned:  The Charlie Cart provides a fun way for young folks to become engaged in and to learn about healthy eating.

Combine stories and literacy with cooking programming. Weave stories into public space and you promote the library, promote reading, and also promote fun, active engagement in cooking!

Don’t be afraid to think outside of the library! Lots can be done using outdoor spaces to engage communities in healthy living programming.

The Charlie Cart, although so fun and well made, is very heavy and not so portable! Plans to take the cart out to schools and neighborhoods did not pan out due to its weight.

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