“I believe that if we’re going to make any progress on solving our problems, we are going to need to learn to communicate”
Member of Adelphi University’s Profiles in Success program.
Director, Read a Recipe for Literacy
Building Literacy and Community
To Mary Jo Weinig even the most complicated societal problems can be addressed in a simple way.
“I believe that if we’re going to make any progress on solving our problems, we are going to need to learn to communicate,” she says.
Communication skills, literacy, confidence, and a sense of connection are at the heart of Read a Recipe for Literacy, founded in 2007 under the auspices of the Weinig Foundation. Envisioned from the start to be a community-driven, locally inspired program with a flexible curriculum adaptable for any region, Ms. Weinig’s project has flourished in sites on Long Island and in Florida, where she and her husband split their time.
The first six-week program started with potatoes in Greenport, New York. Long a staple of the Long Island agricultural economy, and a favorite food for kids of all ages, Ms. Weinig saw more than a crop or a menu item; she recognized the potential for inter-connected story-telling and learning. Over several weeks, a group of elementary-age children gathered at the local library to hear from members of their community and to engage in a variety of activities related to each topic.
Among the guests, a potato farmer and the owner of a small food company that makes organic potato chips demonstrated their day-to-day lives and work. They also shared how important reading and writing were to their experiences. For the children, there were two common links: potatoes and weekly reading, writing, and speaking tasks.
“Each child has a recipe book,” explains Ms. Weinig, “and they are encouraged to write their thoughts and responses to the presentations. They read and share ideas; they write, they read out loud, they draw, they engage in physical activity, and sometimes they cook together. At the end of the six weeks, they present their work to their parents and members of the community.”
“There are many ways to measure success,” says Ms. Weinig. “The children have fun, learn about the natural world, their community, their food, and all the while develop their communication skills. Parents go to a library, some for the first time. And local businesses are promoted through the guest speaker channel.”
Since that first model program in (2007), Read a Recipe for Literacy has worked with partners, including libraries, schools, and recreation centers to bring this program to their community.
One of the goals of Read a Recipe for Literacy is to create a community connection by customizing the curriculum to capture the uniqueness of a particular region. This is accomplished by involving local business owners, elected officials and volunteers to participate and share experiences. The community connection is furthered by building partnerships with local community based organizations. In Southold, for example, the program is strengthened through a partnership between Read a Recipe for Literacy and the Peconic Land Trust which supports working farms in that area. This partnership has allowed Read a Recipefor Literacy to add visits to a local farm and talks by working farmers to the Long Island curriculum.
“Nothing gets people more involved than food,” according to Ms. Weinig, “and it allows us through Read a Recipe for Literacy, to bring people together and to teach and inspire.”
In a time when organic and sustainable agriculture is booming, and farmer’s markets and slow-food cuisine are becoming more readily available, Read a Recipe for Literacy is striking a chord. Later this year, the program will make its first foray into the urban gardens and eateries of New York City in collaboration with the New York Restoration Project. There is much more on the horizon.
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