Nearly 40,000 children have visited the garden at La Plaza de Cultura y Artes for workshops on how to grow fruits and veggies and make health snacks. Now, the Mexican-American cultural center is bringing those workshops out to the community with a new mobile classroom.
La Troka, the teaching garden on wheels, made its first stop Wednesday at Para Los Niños Gratts Primary Center, a charter school serving 4-6 year olds.
Wednesday's lesson was all about squash. Coral O'Riley, one of the managers of La Troka, taught the kids about the life cycle of zucchini from seed to flower to squash, and had them act out the growth process.
They also learned about the Latin American origins of the vegetable and practiced saying "squash" in English, Spanish ("calabaza") and the Aztec language Nahuatl ("ayohtli").
Things also got hands-on. Students planted seeds to take home and used a spiralizer to make a fresh zucchini salad.
"They learn the recipes, they work it out themselves and then they're able to share that with their families when they go home," said Abelardo de la Peña, Jr, director of marketing and communications for La Plaza de Cultura y Artes.
Teachers said that even the children most hesitant to partake of raw veggies ended up digging in and enjoying the salad.
"A lot of our children come from households that are low-income and they come with a lot of challenges – one of them being healthy nutrition," said principal Juan Carlos Ramirez.
"A well-fed and healthy mind is going to allow these children in this community to overcome a lot of the challenges that are present."
The truck is an extension of a gardening and culinary program established at La Plaza by the PepsiCo Foundation in 2011.
"We want to go out into the community and bring the same knowledge to a greater audience in hopes of getting them interested in nutrition and healthy eating," said de la Peña.
Look out for the colorful truck at schools, libraries and farmer's markets in the new year.