Food for Thought: Fueling the Mind in Kentucky

By Michele Farrell
Senior Library Program Officer

Kentucky has developed an interesting way of addressing two problems: the slide in reading skills that happens over the summer months, and hunger. While on my site visit, I got to meet with people who are making a difference in the lives of children and teens in Kentucky. As Heather Dieffenbach, children and youth consultant at the Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives explained, Kentucky has the fifth highest ranking in food insecurity in the nation. Additionally, low-income children lose about 22 percent of their reading skills over the summer.

To address these problems, the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives partnered with the Kentucky Department of Education, public libraries and other local partners to expand the summer reading programs into areas targeting at-risk children. In 2013, $151,711 in LSTA funds was used by libraries to provide programming and staff support for summer literacy services while the Department of Education provided the meals through USDA’s Summer Food Service Program. This program has been offered since 2011 and continues to be well received.

Patricia Richards, children’s services coordinator at the Covington Branch Library, runs the Fueling the Mind project for the Kenton County Public Library. The actual program is carried out at the Ludlow Elementary School because it has food facilities. It’s quite an operation. When I arrived, they had already served over 200 meals that morning and the children were still coming. Each child has a meal, does a group arts or science activity, then they either are read to or they pick out a book to take home to read. Patricia explained how a log is kept of each child’s reading activity. The children were having fun and were delighted to be able to take a book home. One little boy wanted to take two books he was so thrilled. I saw the same response from the children at the Union County Public Library and the Village Branch of the Lexington Public Library.

As Debbie McClanahan, the director at Union County, explained, these children have few options for things to do during the summer. While visiting here I saw an older child with special needs being assisted and enjoying the background music that was on, making this a fun experience for all.

Betty Abdmishani, the manager at the Village Branch, explained that her branch is a safe haven and provides many services to its Latino and African American clientele. The Village Branch is in a strip mall surrounded by fast food chains. Betty and Kinzie Gaunce, the children’s librarian, said that they were providing an alternative for the children so they learn how to choose healthy food items like the fruits and vegetables served in the program.

When I arrived, there were 50 young people waiting for the program to begin. Sixteen public libraries offer Monday through Friday summer reading programs and meals for at-risk children. What struck me the most was how the children and staff were so involved in the activities and how everyone was happy. You couldn’t fake the enthusiasm and joy that I saw in each of these locations. The goals of Fueling the Mind are to encourage libraries to expand the duration of summer reading programs, increase the number of programs they offer, and increase the number of children in their reading programs. Last year, libraries that participated in this project extended their program lengths by 32 percent and offered 121 percent more programs.

Learn more on how museums and libraries can get involved with the Summer Food Service Program.

USDA’s Summer Food Service Program:

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Food, Glorious Food!

The Food, Glorious Food! exhibit at the Bellefonte Art Museum for Centre County celebrates the local natural resources of Central Pennsylvania  that grace our tables. The art installation runs from June 1 to August 31 in the Windows on the World gallery and includes sculpture, photographs, paintings and botanical drawings created by 20 museum artists that all relate to food. Hands-on culinary activities throughout the summer engage chefs, farmers, and local experts in an effort to connect the public with our culinary identity.

Botanical drawing by Holly Fritchman of tomatoes and corn.

Each month of the summer, one fruit and one vegetable is highlighted with programming. June featured wild mushrooms and strawberries. July will focus on garlic and blueberries and August, tomatoes and corn. BAM artist Holly Fritchman created the botanical series and donated an original to remain on silent auction throughout the summer with proceeds to benefit the museum.

A Let’s Move! museum, the Bellefonte Art Museum for Centre County hosts free and public monthly Family First Sunday receptions and workshops that will continue the food theme through the summer.  June’s Vegetable Mask-making activity proved popular with the more than 300 attendees who snacked on vegetables and fruits while watching the children create art. July’s Family First Sunday will be held in the museum’s “Garden of Eatin” and will showcase edible flowers and how use them. The August Family First Sunday will be a block party in front of the museum on historic Allegheny Street and will feature a popcorn workshop with a heritage cob corn. A Food, Glorious Food! companion “cookbook-let” containing articles and recipes about local people and what they grow, forage or catch will launch on July 9 in a digital format that can be downloaded for free through iTunes.

People examine materials prepared by a registered dietician.

Real fruits fuel the mask making workshop at the June Family First Sunday open house. Museum director Pat House, seated on left, with granddaughter Harper House and Connie Levine examine the materials prepared by Carrie Lyons, a registered dietician, artist and program innovator at the museum.

The BAM also has three week long summer camp programs for children aged 6 to 10. The first one, Gooey You II, concluded on Friday with a reception that included pickles that the campers made during the week. 

A drawing of a fruit face created by summer camp children.

Gooey You II campers created Fruitfaces during their camp week at the Bellefonte Museum.

Museum member only events are designed to grow the membership which is a modest $30/per individual or $40/per family. Members can attend any or all of eight special events for free, thanks to a generous gift from a museum patron. A workshop took place on June 8 at the Shaver’s Creek Environmental Center with an illustrated lecture on local mushrooms, followed by a walk in the woods to search for them, and a cooking demonstration.

On the night of the June full moon, a tapas dinner and wine tasting that featured late spring/early summer local foods such as ramps, morels, asparagus, trout and bison was held at a mountaintop residence and attended by 50 members.

A fresh pea puree anchored sugar snap pods that bared their peas, topped with a shiso leaf with crabmeat and a pink dianthus blossom.

A fresh pea puree anchored sugar snap pods that bared their peas, topped with a shiso leaf with crabmeat and a pink dianthus blossom.

Upcoming  members only events include a garlic harvest at a home garden combined with a wood-fired al fresco pizza making demonstration, a blueberry picking outing and potluck, an August early morning corn harvest sampling, and an heirloom tomato tasting. The series concludes on August 31 with a pig roast in the vaults of the historic Roopsburg Brewery, operational until 1885.

For more information about the Bellefonte Art Museum for Centre County visit their website, Facebook page, or download the brochure for the Food, Glorious Food! exhibit.

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