Community garden project blossoms into a science and nutrition showcase

September 11, 2012

Story Highlights

  • Chef Jason Hisely grills and creates signature cupcake to expand kids' vegetable palates.
  • CYSS youth helped Jason and his assistant prepare food from the community garden.
  • Lt. Col. Scott Newkirk joins in festivities.

Celebrity Chef Jason Hisley grills veggie pizza, creates signature cupcake to expand kids' vegetable palates

Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md. – Jason Hisley was just a kid when he started coming to Aberdeen Proving Ground's northern location. His mom, Dr. Dixie Hisley, a researcher with the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL), would bring him and his brother to her job for special kid-friendly events at the ARL.

Although raised in Harford County, he never made it to the Edgewood area of the installation until this summer when he joined with ARL and APG's Child, Youth and School Services Center (CYSS) on a community garden project that blossomed into a science and nutrition showcase.

The main event was the feast, held August 21 at CYSS, where youth helped Jason and his assistant Shanea Lindebak prepare grilled veggie pizza – stacked with zucchini, eggplant, broccoli, tomatoes and onions - for 35 children and about a dozen adults.

Most of the vegetables were pulled from the center's garden. He's a celebrity chef, having placed first on the Food Network's Cupcake Wars and landing second on the network's Sweet Genius. For the last few years, he's been Flavor Cupcakery, Inc.'s lead pastry chef, but next month, he's opening a commercial bakery in Baltimore called La Cakerie to offer his signature breads and desserts to store fronts, grocers and farmer's markets.

He brought those winning credentials to APG's community garden project.

"This is a cool concept from start to finish; I think it's cool to get kids to try new things they may never have tried before by incorporating it in a cupcake, or in a pizza or even in the pizza sauce," said Hisley. "Getting kids involved with growing their own food and preparing it, and having the local community involved, plus showing them the adventures of eating 'vegetarian' has been so much fun."

Each child got to roll out Chef Jason's homemade dough, a whole-wheat recipe he created that resembles Ciabatta and Focaccia breads, and top it with a medley of veggies before it was placed on the grill.

A signature cupcake designed by Flavor Cupcakery called Zuccochocolate was a nice end lunch, youth nearly unanimously agreed.

It was named by 8-year-old Jordan Richards, who's been with CYSS since he was in kindergarten, and combines zucchini and chocolate with a gooey chocolate caramel zucch smear, chocolate ganache frosting and garnished with four leaf clover sprinkles as a nod to 4-H.

Early on in the project, ARL introduced civil, material and mechanical engineering principals to youth as they teamed up to build a greenhouse from the ground up as part of ARL's robust Earth Day activities.

"Our youth had a blast," said Renee Main, facilities director at the Edgewood Area Youth Center. "We try really hard to introduce them to new and different experiences."

Veggie pizza was a new experience for 8-year-old Tiarah Vickers. She said "it's good; it's yummy. I like the zucchini the most."

The science lessons resonated with her, and they would. It's her favorite subject in school "because we had pollination partners, we had sink and float (salt water, tap water, syrup and other liquid tests), a volcano and other experiments."

She and friend Kayleigh Devorak, 9, helped plant, tend and pull vegetables.

"I helped plant radishes and cotton, and pick them from the garden," said Devorak, who's entering fourth grade at Edgewood Elementary. "Ms. Renee gave us some seeds to plant since we loved to plant! The radishes grew. Ms. Renee put them in our salads at lunch this summer."

Main said programs like this make her job more fun. "I especially enjoy the teaching side of it," she emphasized. She said so much of the center's goals is in teaching life skills, which can't be dictated effectively. Rather, she said, kids have to participate to fully embrace and absorb life lessons.

"I couldn't have prescribed a better day for the Community Garden Feast as the culmination of the greenhouse project," said Ann Bornstein, who retired from ARL in 2010. She is credited with establishing ARL's first Gains in the Education of Mathematics and Science. "Renee's idea for grilled veggie pizzas was perfect. Since most kids won't turn down pizza, what a great way to get them to try something a little different yet healthy and to enjoy the 'fruits' or should I say 'veggies' of their labors. "

"I was impressed (with) how the children participated in helping to prepare for the feast without fussing about it. The girls who were slicing and dicing the veggies really seemed eager to help."

"The kids will certainly have much to talk about when they return to school."


Last Update / Reviewed: September 11, 2012