Katherine Pryor, MA, is the author of the children’s books Zora’s Zucchini and Sylvia’s Spinach. In addition to writing, she’s worked to create better food choices at institutions, large corporations, and food banks. Learn more at KatherinePryor.com, or on Twitter or Instagram @readyourgreens.
I’ve considered myself a writer since I was seven years old, so I suppose it makes sense that I would find my niche as an author for the seven-and-under crowd. My new book, Zora’s Zucchini, is the story of a little girl who brings her community together by sharing excess zucchini from her abundant summer garden, and I use the book as a way to talk to kids about sharing to reduce food waste. I wanted to bring this message to food-insecure communities, but didn’t know how.
That’s where 4Culture came in. When I saw the Art Projects grant call for Community Engagement proposals, I knew this could be the perfect opportunity to connect with King County schools serving kids in need. Over the 2015-2016 school year, I visited nine elementary schools in King County where at least 40% of students were eligible for Free & Reduced Meals—although at most schools, the numbers were closer to 70-80%. I read my books in gardens, libraries, gyms, and classrooms. I worked with librarians, teachers, garden educators, and nutrition advocates from Solid Ground and Lettuce Link to create meaningful programs for the children at each school. I discussed my writing process, and encouraged the children to think of themselves as storytellers.
It’s important to me to reach these kids because I was one. I was the kid with the free lunch punchcard, the kid scouring the refrigerated grocery store aisle for generic milk and orange juice to buy with our WIC coupons. With help from federal nutrition programs and the compassionate encouragement of my teachers, my hard-working parents made sure I grew up healthy, educated, and confident enough to pursue a creative profession.
Visiting schools with high rates of food insecurity to talk about food was intimidating. As I faced a gymnasium of 100 kids, I knew by sheer statistics that many members of the audience receive their primary meals of the day at school, and that some of the kids were experiencing hunger at home. Yet I was determined to leave them feeling empowered. I encouraged the kids to think about what they would do in Zora’s position. In short, what would they do with too much food?
“Sell it,” a young entrepreneur always said.
“Share it with homeless people,” someone would offer.
“Give it to my neighbors,” another kid would pipe up.
It’s easy to forget about the innate generosity and creativity of the human race. We’re surrounded by so much pain, witness to so much violence and senseless loss. Then a first grader with limited access to food describes her desire to share what she has with others, and suddenly the world makes a little more sense. We are makers. We are givers. We seek community, and strive to make those communities the best places they can be.
These are kids whose voices are worth fostering. We know there is a direct correlation between access to books and access to food, but I’m grateful for the many people out there working to change that. Visiting schools who could not usually afford to bring in an author has been one of the highlights of my writing career. I’m already scheming how to do it again next year.