ROCKLAND, Maine — Genna Cherichello said her first attempt to grow food was as a child in a suburb in northern New Jersey.
She watched the strawberries transform in her garden and one Saturday morning was ready to pick them. But when she went to the garden, she found that a rabbit had eaten all of the berries.
“I was disheartened,” Cherichello said.
But she regained that love of gardening and food, and that lifelong passion has brought her to the Rockland area, where she is the FoodCorps representative. Her duties include working with both Regional School Unit 13 and RSU 40 to encourage students to both grow food in gardens and to cook healthy meals with those crops.
Cherichello said she is excited by the energy she has found in the community. She has served the previous year as an AmeriCorps Vista volunteer and will remain here serving with FoodCorps. She is based at the Knox-Lincoln Cooperative Extension Office in Waldoboro.
FoodCorps is a national movement to connect young people to healthful foods. She said her main role is to connect the different people in the community so that this goal can be reached.
For instance, at Medomak Valley High School in Waldoboro, where an heirloom seed project has been going on for more than 20 years, she has connected the school with a local master gardener who will catalog the heirloom seeds.
She noted that most of the RSU 40 schools (Waldoboro, Warren, Union, Washington and Friendship) have school gardens. At Medomak, the students raise vegetables such as cucumbers, tomatoes and lettuce in their garden, she said. The food goes to the cafeteria when harvested and is served to the students.
RSU 13 serves the communities of Rockland, Thomaston, St. George, Owls Head, South Thomaston and Cushing.
Oceanside High School East in Rockland, she said, has reclaimed a garden at the adjacent Youthlinks property in Rockland. Chard, peppers and kale are raised at that garden.
FoodCorps says in its mission statement that it envisions a “nation of well-nourished children: children who know what healthy food is, how it grows and where it comes from, and who have access to it every day. These children, having grown up in a healthy food environment, will learn better, live longer, and liberate their generation from diet-related disease.”
She will be organizing cooking clubs for schoolchildren in the two school districts and teach them how wonderful vegetables can be fresh from a garden.
“A garden does it all. It keeps you healthy. You get exercise. It builds community,” Cherichello said.
She said if youth are taught about the importance of healthy foods and cooking they will not only pass it down to future generations, it can have an immediate impact in their homes by filtering that knowledge to the adults in their lives.
Cherichello grew up in northern New Jersey and graduated from Haverford College outside of Philadelphia. She studied psychology, specifically the psychology of music. From that she learned about how music, art and food make people interact.
“I knew I wanted to work with food, cook for people and cook with people,” she said.
Immediately after college she worked on an organic farm in California and then was selected to be an AmeriCorps member in Maine. That was a one-year position and then she applied and was selected for the FoodCorps position.
One of her favorite recipes is mixed roasted winter squash with maple syrup and curry powder. She said she could eat that every day in some form from November through March. Another is pan-sauteed green beans with garlic and maybe with some ginger.
Cherichello said anyone who wants to contact her on how to help with the goal of FoodCorps can email her at email@example.com
There are 10 FoodCorps members in Maine and one FoodCorps fellow. FoodCorps is part of the AmeriCorps Service Network.