August 10, 2020 | By: Carol Lea Spence

LEXINGTON, Ky., — University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension offices are usually busy places in the summer, buzzing with young people learning lots of life skills in day camps that cover cooking, gardening, sewing and a plethora of other activities. The COVID-19 pandemic has quashed all that, but extension educators believe if there’s a will, there’s a way. In a three-county region in Northern Kentucky, Mimi Quiroz and extension colleagues came up with an idea for Day Camp in a Bag.

Quiroz, the regional Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education assistant, serves Carroll, Gallatin and Owen counties. She worked with Gallatin County 4-H youth development agent Lora Stewart to develop a cooking camp that young people could participate in at home. In Carroll County, family and consumer sciences agent Cathy Jansen jumped on board too.

“I thought that was a great idea, so we sat down and picked out some nutritious recipes that Mimi thought would be good ones for the kids,” Jansen said.

Stewart reached out to her 4-H’ers and Mimi, who is bilingual, contacted the Hispanic families she works with.

The program ended up serving 56 families with more than 150 young people.

Once a week, families can pick up a bag of camp supplies at their extension office. The bag contains ingredients, a recipe and handouts about nutrition or other information the staff thinks participants might benefit in knowing, including kitchen skills and safety.

“We gave them a handout about how to crack eggs when they had a recipe that had eggs in it and information about peaches, because today’s recipe was for peach cobbler. And we always include a reminder about handwashing, since that’s especially important now,” Jansen said.

One of the benefits to the at-home program is the opportunity for parents and children to bond over cooking.

“We’ve had some good pictures come in of the parents talking to the kids and showing them how to do something. The intergenerational activity is working out great,” she said.

In Owen County, Quiroz expanded Day Camp in a Box to include gardening. She got help from Kendall Bowman, Owen County agriculture and natural resources agent, in setting up the young people with the items they needed to plant their own Victory Gardens.

Quiroz raised basil and oregano plants in her own Victory Garden and shared the plants with the day-campers at the beginning of the program, along with seeds, potting soil and pots that Bowman provided.

“Even if you just have a small garden, you can still grow something. Then, if you have herbs, you can dry them and use them during the next year,” Quiroz explained. “We provide information on how to take care of the plants and dry your herbs. Also, we have recipes. We have a video that you can watch on the website. We try to provide them with all the tools to do this.”

Rachel and Hannah Howard dropped by the Owen County Extension office recently to pick up their weekly bag. That week’s bag not only included a cooking project, but also a craft project. The twins, who are about to start their freshman year at Owen County High School, said they enjoyed the chance to learn more about cooking. Hannah particularly liked the enchilada recipe that was in one of the bags, because it was quick and easy to make.

She said the program has kept them entertained this summer, “since we can’t go out to places much.”

Samantha “Sam” Mason has been involved in 4-H since she was in third grade. She graduated from Owen County High School last spring and is headed to Northern Kentucky University soon. She enjoyed growing oregano and basil in her own garden and then using it in the kitchen.

“I actually picked a bunch of my basil yesterday, and I made homemade pesto. It was really good,” she said.

UK Cooperative Extension Service is part of the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. With its land-grant partner, Kentucky State University, the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service brings the university to the people in their local communities, addressing issues of importance to all Kentuckians.

View video here.

Contact: 

Mimi Quiroz, mimi.quiroz@uky.edu