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Dec

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Providing Food and Nutrition Education with a Charlie Cart

Posted by on December 4th, 2020 Posted in: Funded Project
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The following post was written by Margaret Woodruff, Director of the Charlotte, Vermont Public Library and Cheryl Sloan, the Youth Services Librarian and Assistant Director. The Charlotte Public Library received NNLM NER grant funding to purchase a Charlie Cart, a portable kitchen that enabled them to implement a food literacy project for their community. 

Greetings from the Charlotte Library in Charlotte, Vermont.  When we first planned the expansion to our library back in 2018, we intended to include a kitchen in the new program room.  Budget and construction constraints derailed that plan, but not our dreams for a way to offer food literacy and cooking programs here at our small rural library.  Thanks to a grant from NNLM-NER, we fulfilled our dreams with the purchase of a Charlie Cart mobile kitchen (https://charliecart.org/).  The equipment, on wheels, with power, storage and sink is just part of an all-in-one, hands-on food education and nutrition program.  With age-leveled curriculum and a kitchen’s worth of tools and supplies, the Charlie Cart provided a lot of inspiration for our adult and children’s programs.  We imagined afterschool “Snack on a Book” sessions for kids and cooking lessons with local chefs for adults. Both would teach library patrons of all ages about the link between good food choices and good health, as well as link to the NNLM Nutrition Health resources.

These plans came to an abrupt halt with the COVID crisis.  Our Charlie Cart was scheduled to arrive in June, but by late March our library was closed and our program room reassigned as quarantine space, with no end to restrictions in sight.  We decided that COVID-restriction time could also be training time.  Our library staff attended the live sessions with Charlie Cart trainers and familiarized ourselves with the kitchen equipment and accessories.  By the start of fall, with the library reopened in a modest way, we ventured to offer a couple of socially distanced Charlie Cart programs.  These were not to be full-scale cooking sessions but would introduce the Charlie Cart to our library community.

The first of these, entitled “Yes, I Can: Learn Canning Basics and How to Make Dilly Beans,”  took place in late September. We wheeled the Charlie Cart out to the library parking lot, plugged it in through a window and got started.  Participants were socially distanced as two library volunteers and veteran canners showed how to prepare ingredients and materials to safely preserve vegetables at home.  We never imagined cooking on the sidewalk, but the program proved successful and engaging.  Attendees expressed gratitude for the introduction to healthy options for eating during the coming winter months, as well as the chance to try something new.

Our next Charlie Cart program was designed for kids – and for the birds!  Our youth librarian planned an outdoor bird watching program, which included making up a bird food recipe.  Once again, we wheeled our trusty cart outside, this time to the library porch.  When the time came, kids stepped up, individually and safely-distanced, to stir the ingredients for bird food rings.  The combination of book and culinary activities is one we will repeat in the future.

The colder weather has brought a return to library limitations, so we will put the time to good use, planning new programs with our Charlie Cart for the spring and summer.  For anyone looking to incorporate food literacy and a lot of fun into their health literacy programming, we can’t recommend this program enough!

Other resources we found helpful include:

Gather ‘Round the Table: Food Literacy Programs, Resources and ideas for Libraries” by Hillary Dodge. (ALA Editions 2020, ISBN: 97800838946299

The NNLM Webinar “Cooking Virtually: Culinary Literacy Programming Online”.

We are always looking for new ideas and would love to hear from you if you’re interested in sharing with us, drop us an email info@charlottepubliclibrary.org

NNLM also offers a 1-hour webinar, Food for Thought: Exploring Nutrition Resources (webinar recording, slides and resource list) can be found at the following link

https://nnlm.gov/classes/nutrition

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NNLM New England Region
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This has been funded in whole or in part with Federal funds from the Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Library of Medicine, under cooperative agreement number UG4LM012347 with the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

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