Kids who hate spinach or kale are proven to eat more of it after they’ve used it in a cooking class, and hands-on classes can also help fight childhood obesity and diabetes. But it’s fairly rare that elementary or middle schools have kitchens for students to use, either from a lack of budget or lack of space. The challenge inspired the design of the new Charlie Cart, a low-cost mobile kitchen that can move from classroom to classroom or even outdoors.
The kit includes everything a class of 30 students needs to cook: Tools like cutting boards and mixing bowls, an induction cooktop, small oven, and a sink. Since connecting to plumbing would be a challenge in most classrooms, the sink uses a tank that can be filled up in the teachers’ bathroom. As the water is used, it goes in a graywater bucket that can be dumped outside in a school garden. The small cart also holds a first aid kit and details like a compost bag and dish soap, and comes with lesson plans for different grades.
“The goal is to have an all inclusive kit to get you started with cooking in the classroom,” says Brian Dougherty from Celery Design Collaborative, who designed the cart along with Carolyn Federman, a teacher from the Edible Schoolyard Project, an “edible education” program that first started at a middle school in Berkeley, California.
Though school gardens have been quickly moving into the mainstream, cooking classes have been less common. “If you ask how you make a big impact on a kid’s life in terms of nutrition and their relationship with food, part of it is understanding where food comes from–i.e. gardens–and the other part is understanding what you do with food–i.e. cooking,” says Dougherty. “But the cooking part has been challenging.”
The lesson plans are a crucial part of the kit, and include other subjects than the food itself. “Cooking is a fantastic way of learning all kinds of subjects through experience,” says Dougherty. “It’s an impactful way to learn about science or culture or history. You can learn what immigration means through food, or practice math.” The Edible Schoolyard, for example, offers a lesson called the “Mathematics of Rhubarb Jam” that involves drawing graphs and calculating the slope of a line.
Over the next year, the designers will be testing a prototype of the cart–with a focus on the lesson plans–in three different school districts. They’re currently raising funds for the first few carts on Kickstarter.
Ultimately, they hope to expand nationally by the end of next year, all with the goal of helping more students eat healthier food. “The hands-on aspect changes your relationship with food,” says Dougherty. “You have a different perception of cheese if you’ve made cheese. It makes you less intimidated, and more open to fresh foods and nutritious foods. That has a cascading impact and can shape huge aspects of your life for decades to come.”