Ideas We Love: Food for Thought

by Melissa Whittemore

Triskeles logoIn my last blog entry about the Farm to Table movement, I wrote about the importance of bringing local, seasonal food to our tables.  In this post, I’d like to share an example we love about connecting people to food where it is grown and using that experience as an opportunity for youth development and empowerment.

Food for Thought, a program of Triskeles, is in its ninth summer offering hands on-experience in sustainable farming, cooking, nutritional activities and entrepreneurship for youth aged 13 to 19 in Chester County, Pennsylvania. The program aims to help young people make healthy life choices just as they are beginning to make their own decisions about food, lifestyle and their life paths.


Triskeles’ mission focuses on consciousness, sustainability and creativity, and its non-profit programs address topics of healthy eating and nutrition, organic gardening, leadership, community service, entrepreneurship, youth philanthropy, eco-literacy and mentorship. In these programs, youth work alongside adults who are committed to creating a world where the “triple bottom line” values of prosperity, people and planet are the measures of success.

In a recent interview with Mark Birdsall, the Director of Youth Programs at Triskeles, I was struck by how basic but how incredible necessary the skills are that these programs are teaching. They are life skills, essential for success and survival in our world.  Mark explained that through these programs, young adults learn not only the mechanics of cooking and nutrition, but also experience working in teams, participating in a community and developing critical skills like how to write a resume and interview successfully for a job.


This is how participants in the Food for Thought program spend their summers. When I take a step back in time and rewind to my summers as a young teenager, I remember playing with my friends, swimming, going to camp, and working my first job in a clothing retail shop.  I enjoyed these summers and remember them fondly, but I wonder what it would have been like to join with a program like Food for Thought. How would those skills have served me as a young person? How might that experience have impacted my life?

Triskeles programs run throughout the year, engaging young people in these types of hands-on, skills-based experiences. Can you imagine spending more time out of the classroom than in?  How incredibly rewarding it is to have hands on approach to learning?  I picture my old high school and the old classrooms where I spent so much time, and I can’t help but wonder what it would have been like to spend four days per week working on a farm, cooking my own food and preparing for the world by building skills and experience.


The program’s philosophy speaks to this so clearly: When youth get fully involved with their hearts and hands, lessons become ingrained and have a lasting impact far beyond what can be just taught in a classroom.  Food for Thought participants learn skills and make connections they will use all their lives. These teens have an impact in the rapidly-growing local organic food movement, have fun outside, eat delicious food, make friends and earn stipends for their work.

I hope I am not making this sound too glamorous, because I know that working outdoors in the summer heat is not for everyone, and I certainly haven’t done it. At the same time, I so appreciate those who do.  At this time, 37 young adults have graduated from the program and have been celebrated with an amazing dinner, of course, along with awards and certificates.  Some have gone on to work on farms or in kitchens, and some have won awards for their culinary achievements.


I want to extend my gratitude to Triskeles for creating and stewarding these programs for our youth.  I want to thank every farmer who is tending to the land in all of its elements to nourish us and bring healthy choices to our families and communities. I want to congratulate all of the youth that have been part of this program or still are, and let you know how heartened I am by your dedication, and the choices you are making for yourself, your peers, your community and your world. All of these ingredients have, indeed, given me Food for Thought :)!

To learn more about Triskeles and the programs they offer, please check out their website at

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While they were saying it couldn't be done, it was done.
— Helen Keller