New Leaf Kitchen nurtures children in food insecure communities

Imagine a place where kids can go after school (from ages 3–18), to learn about nutrition, prepare dinner for their families, and nurture themselves and their communities. Imagine this place being a school, library, or community location close to bus lines. This is Annie Streitmarter’s vision.

She is well on her way.

Her program is called New Leaf Kitchen and was founded in March 2018 — after years of working with children from all walks of life. She is the mom of a four-year-old and is passionate about children and food.

“I did some respite care (for kids with special needs) and worked with pre-school kids (as a teacher),” she says. “I also helped open up a kid cooking studio in Chicago when I lived there. This was impactful for the tools that we used when we opened here.”

Streitmarter quickly realized the huge void in nutritional education and parents’ lack of knowledge on illnesses and the connection to foods that they were feeding their children. She was well aware the statistics on obesity and food-related illnesses.

“There is an enormous amount of food insecurity and food deserts,” she says. “We want to be able to provide food education and preparation skills. We want children to advocate for their own health. We can impact the economy and environment through one child.”

She believes that children learn how healthy food can make one feel and, more importantly, they can bring this knowledge home to the family, like foods that build immunity and fight colds.

Streitmarter expressed that label reading is important. “There is still a big need in food and nutrition education. It is very common for people to eat unhealthy and not realize it. We are trying to break that cycle,” she says. “We have had kids come from the beginning. Lots of kids are really learning.”

New Leaf is developed primarily for children, but ultimately includes the family. The message is delivered home with recipe cards. The concepts of learning (cognitive, social, language) all happen within the same class. Measuring is a mathematical skill. Recipes are a reading skill.

Everything is child sized.

This is an experiential classroom that is hands-on and fun for the participants.

New Leaf is in about 8–10 elementary/pre-schools and public libraries. Libraries are often central to overall community life.

“In libraries we have had teenagers come in every day and cook lunch with us. We then hear through parents’ emails [that] said they had oats added to their shopping lists,” she says.

“We work with Mason, Mt Healthy, and Lockland. Libraries provide volunteers and staff,” she continues. “This includes both Hamilton and Clermont County and Gorman Farm in Evendale. We do the Saturday academy program at Cincinnati Country Day that is open to the public. We have done some summer programs. We have been at farmer’s markets.”

She meets the public on their own terms in locations that are ubiquitous.

She started operating enrichment education as paid programs that are then able to help finance lower income locations. New Leaf maintains a chart of all of the schools located in food deserts. Profits are reinvested to pay herself to enable grant writing, which ultimately serves more locations.

She has recently been awarded grants from both Clermont County and a foundation in Pittsburgh.

“We are looking to expand into an after-school studio space — a good and safe place for kids to come after school, prepare their own dinner, and bring it home or invite their family in a shared family dinner,” she says.

“My dream is to have three or four farms,” she continues. “I would like a building with a nice green space and grow area in food deserts. This would be where people can get to us quickly on bus lines.”

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Read more articles by Jennifer Mooney.

Jennifer Mooney is a reformed corporate communications senior executive. She has also worked in the advertising industry and founded The Mooney Group, LLC, a boutique public relations practice. She is an avid adventurer and traveler, which includes climbing/hiking, open water swimming, and downhill skiing. She is a downtown resident and is married to Donald Mooney. She has two grown daughters.