By Michelle Guarnieri
Every year, the University of Maryland (UMD) sets aside a whole day in April for fun, educational, community-based activities that celebrate the state of Maryland and the university’s advancements.. During my Freshman year at Virginia Tech, I attended our campus wide activity fair, and figured that Maryland Day would be the same thing. There would probably be a few tents set up on the mall so the new college students could explore their options at the university. However, when I pulled on campus and saw the sheer number of people, cars, and events, I quickly learned I was mistaken. There were far from just college students here! Groups of all ages flocked to College Park to speak with professors, current students, graduates, and clubs to learn about any number of engaging topics.
I worked a shift at the sustainability tent with a few of my preceptors and the Terp Farm team. Throughout the day, we handed out an assortment of pre-planted herb and vegetable plants to a never ending line of excited people. Basil and tomato plants were wildly popular, and I even learned how to care for them best. Basil, for example, really likes heat – about 6 to 7 hours of full sun every day. I guess this explains why the basil growing in my kitchen right now isn’t doing so well. Hopefully the information I learned and shared will help those who took a plant home get an abundant harvest!
My appreciation for different cultures was also greatly increased while talking about this produce. Several people and families came back with their plant and asked what basil is. I found myself pausing for a second before answering, because I’ve always had basil around. Whether my grandmother was cooking with it or I was growing my own in my backyard, I assumed everyone knew what it was and how to use it. I gave each person a little background on the herb and recommended some great Mediterranean dishes to make with it. They were all very excited to work with this new food, and I was able to open my eyes a little more to the different food cultures around us.
The sustainability team also held several cooking demonstrations in the square for anyone who cared to participate. During my shift, Chef Larry made mango pudding, a classic Chinese dessert from coconut milk, fresh mangoes, gelatin, and sugar. It was simple to make and exactly what we all needed to perk up in the hot sun. After the demonstration, Jackie and I handed out the rest of the basil plants and some Maryland Day t-shirts. This wrapped up my shift, but not the rest of my Maryland Day.
The University of Maryland interns had been divided up between the sustainability tent and a booth focusing on the dietary guidelines and MyPlate. I ventured over to this booth to see what they were up to. They had a whole table full of food replicas, portion sizes and a partitioned plate modeled after MyPlate. Kids then came up to the table and were able to create their own ideal plate with their favorite foods from each food group. While some of the kiddos liked to consider cake as a vegetable, most of them created some delicious and nutritious meals and they loved learning about healthy foods! In fact, the kids surprised their parents with their choices. One child put carrots in his vegetable section, and father was shocked because he didn’t think the little boy liked carrots. It was a great activity to get children involved in their food and nutrition choices. They even got to toss bean bags in a game of corn hole if they created a plate. The kids had a great time and the booth was a big hit.
All in all, I had a great experience at Maryland Day. The families and communities loved the events being offered, and I’m so glad I was able to participate this year as an intern. Next year, I hope to come back and try out the wind machine in the aeronautics building and taste whatever delicious dish Chef Larry is making!