Mercedez-Benz of Bakersfield is full of impressive luxury vehicles equipped with turbocharged engines and futuristic gadgets, but all eyes Tuesday were on a van that will be used to teach students about health and wellness.

Edible Schoolyard of Kern County, a program of the Grimm Family Education Foundation, has partnered with Adventist Health Bakersfield and Kaiser Permanente to take healthy eating and education on the road with its first mobile kitchen classroom. Community members got a first look and bite at what students would be working with in the van.

Kelly Atkinson, program administrator with Edible Schoolyard Kern County, said the mobile classroom idea was born about a year ago. The organization's flagship site is located across from Buena Vista Elementary School, and after the success it has had working with those students, it wanted to expand.

"What we plan on doing is taking (the van) out to different places in Kern County," she said. "It is fully stocked with two Charlie Carts, which are cooking carts on wheels. Whenever we go to a site, we'll be able to roll them out and host cooking classes with students."

At its Buena Vista site, kindergarteners through sixth-graders from Buena Vista Elementary School visit Edible Schoolyard 16 times a year — they attend garden classes eight times, and they take part in kitchen classes the other eight times. In an acre-sized garden, students plant, cultivate and release ladybugs and other beneficial insects. During their kitchen classes, students learn recipes using the crops they harvest. They also learn how to use real tools and, at the end of class, they set a table and eat together.

They will learn and practice those skills with the mobile classroom.

"It's been amazing to get phone calls and emails from parents saying 'your program has changed the way we eat at home. My kids want to cook and want to have a garden,'" Atkinson said.

The two Charlie Carts come equipped with tools students would need when cooking, such as an oven, measuring cups and pots. Atkinson said 10 to 12 students can work per cart. 

During the grand unveiling Tuesday, garden salads were prepared for attendees using crops that were available in Edible Schoolyard's garden. A vinaigrette dressing was made using the Charlie Cart, which Atkinson said is an example of what students would be making.

Dr. Ingrid Wang, assistant medical director for Kaiser Permanente in Kern County, said with 26 percent of children living in home insecure households, this mobile kitchen "can expose them to healthy foods" and "empower them to make healthier choices."

Before the van makes its way to schools across the county, its first event will be the Adventist Health farmers market in May. Later on, it hopes to partner with different organizations, such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of Kern County, student non-profit organizations and schools that are implementing gardens.

Though this is just the first mobile classroom, Bakersfield Mayor Karen Goh said she already pictures many more in the community.

"We’re starting with one mobile van, but I can see two and three and four growing," Goh said. "This is such a high quality, and we’re so fortunate to have partners investing in the highest quality for our children and our families."

While they will be learning basic cooking skills, Atkinson said it is the intangibles, such as the value of sitting down with friends and family to eat a home cooked meal, that is most important.

"Right now in 2019 so much has been lost — we eat dinner in front of the TV, on the go or quick fast food because we're so busy — and that's one thing that's so great about the Edible Schoolyard," she said. "I was fortunate enough to grow up in a family where we ate dinner every night ... I hold that near and dear to my heart, and that's why I work here. I want to give that to students who might not have that at home."

Ema Sasic can be reached at 661-395-7392. Follow her on Twitter @ema_sasic.

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