Pioneering Innovative Food Literacy Education

Baltimore: A Case Study

Self portrait made from vitamin A-rich whole foods that nourish eyes, hair, skin, teeth by first grade student.

“…Food is Elementary teaches students about healthy foods from around the world and builds on what our students learn in science, math, social studies, language arts, music and art. This provides educational enrichment to our students as well as teaching them about food, nutrition, exercise, and cooking. Not only is this beneficial to our students but it is also valuable to our parents and teachers.”

Principal Matt Hornbeck, Hampstead Hill Academy

The “Food for Life” program at Hampstead Hill Academy (HHA) is a model food education program that has been going strong for 18 years. Hampstead Hill Academy is a public charter school in Baltimore City that serves almost 900 students in Pre-K through 8th grade. The entire student body cycles through Food for Life classes, based on the award-winning Food is Elementary curriculum, where they learn about healthy eating in the kitchen classroom and gardening in the organic school garden.

The program was initiated in 2004 with grants obtained by the Food Studies Institute. After three years of grant funding, the cost of the program was fully incorporated into the school budget because the administrators saw the educational value of a multidisciplinary program that addresses all learning styles via a fun curriculum. The program includes:

Food Education

  • Nutrition Education
  • Health Education
  • Culinary Skills
  • Kitchen Math
  • Kitchen Science
  • Botany
  • Vocabulary
  • Geography
  • Social Studies
  • Multicultural Education
  • Art
  • Manners
  • Group Work

Enrichment classes during the school day are based on the award-winning Food is Elementary curriculum. Almost 900 students in PreK-8th grade have “Food for Life” classes, where they engage in hands-on activities to explore the sensory, scientific, and cultural aspects of food and health. They learn basic nutrition principles, gain lifelong cooking skills, know how to decode food labels, and develop an appreciation for multicultural foodways and agriculture. Food safety and hygiene is taught and adhered to in every lesson, as well as attention to aesthetics and food presentation.

School Garden

  • Botany
  • Seeds
  • Soil
  • Composting
  • Vermicomposting
  • Sun
  • Water
  • Weather
  • Garden Tools
  • Insects
  • Pests/Beneficials
  • Live Ladybug Release
  • Monarch Metamorphosis
  • Pollination
  • Companion Planting
  • Native Plants Garden
  • Flower Dissection

The Hampstead Hill garden was built in the spring of 2005 and received an award. Students in Food for Life classes are involved in planting, weeding, watering, and harvesting. The garden serves as an outdoor learning lab and is maintained by students in garden club, which meets after school. Garden Club decides what to plant and harvest in time to serve at the Community Dinners in the fall and spring.

In the summer, families take turns caring for the garden for a week. In exchange for watering and weeding, they get to harvest fresh veggies to eat.

Culinary Arts Club

  • Culinary Skills
  • Guest Chefs
  • International Foods
  • Homemade Gingerbread Houses
  • Edible Flower Recipes
  • Plan, Prepare and Serve Community Dinners

In Culinary Arts Club, students sharpen their cooking skills and prepare a variety of sweet and savory recipes. They work together to plan, prepare, and serve the Winter Community Dinner and Spring International Night. Guest chefs and parents are invited in to teach recipes that represent their family heritage. Many parts of the world have been represented, including: American Soul Food, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Greece, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Russia, Senegal, and Venezuela to name a few.

The recipes selected by parents are made into a picture cookbook that illustrates each step of the recipe – click below to see.

Community Dinners

  • Seasonal Dinners
  • Garden to Table
  • Theme Dinners
  • Food Service Skills
  • Service Learning Hours
  • Staff Volunteers
  • Parent Volunteers
  • Community Volunteers
  • Restaurant Partners
  • Green Club Collaboration – composting, recycling, trash, re-usable table cloths, napkins, plates, compostable flatware

The first community dinner at Hampstead Hill was in 2005. It was an event to celebrate a successful first year of the “Food for Life” program and to thank the funders and everyone involved.

Since then, community dinners have transformed into Community Arts Night – a celebration of student-created food, art, and music that takes place in the Fall, Winter, and Spring. Performances by the band and orchestra are followed by a student art show and dinner prepared and served by students.

International Night

  • Food
  • Dance
  • Music
  • Art
  • Fashion
  • Language

International Night takes on a new flavor each year, and includes a diversity of food, fashion, music, dance, language, and crafts. Participants learn how to make piñatas, try new foods, and get a front row seat to dance performances ranging from traditional Flamenco, Salsa, Mexican folklorico, Lindy hop, Swing, Hip hop, Jazz, African, Irish, Polish, Greek, Chinese dance, and more.


We address multiple learning styles by creating murals for visual learners. The Vitamins mural in the cafeteria was created by Hampstead Hill students and Baltimore artist Spoon Popkin in 2005. The mural is based on still life drawings of real fruits and vegetables done by students and projected onto the wall to be painted. The mural illustrates the concept of eating colorful foods to get vitamins. The mural reinforces what the students learn in classes and enables them to connect the colors of their foods with the vitamins in that food.

Meals around the world mural in the cafeteria by Baltimore artist Spoon Popkin, 2005.

School garden mural on the gymnasium wall painted by Hampstead Hill students and artists from the Creative Alliance, 2010.

Healthy Snacks

Classroom Snacks

  • Since 2007, HHA has served fresh fruits & vegetable snacks to all students in classrooms, 2-3 times a week. The snack program started with a USDA grant written by the Food Studies Institute for high-poverty schools, and when the school no longer qualified (by a percentage point!), the principal found money to continue the program because it had become such an important part of the school culture.
  • Snacks serve several purposes:
    • offset hunger
    • boost concentration and learning
    • educate students about healthy snack choices
    • introduce students to new foods
  • Snacks have included a wide variety of apples, bananas, pears, citrus fruits, kiwi fruits, grapes, blueberries, blackberries, pineapple, peppers, grape tomatoes, broccoli, and more.
  • Fruit & veggie facts are read on the morning announcements

Staff Snacks

  • Faculty meetings
  • Weekly team meetings
  • Morning fruits

School Events

  • Meet Your Teacher
  • Back to School Night
  • Student Celebration Night

Wellness Committee

  • Monthly wellness themes
  • Wellness bulletin board
  • Wellness section in monthly parent magazine
  • Staff fitness club
  • Smoothie station at events
  • Refrigerator magnet contest – students illustrated simple healthy snack recipes that were made into magnets
  • Alliance for a Healthier Generation partnership

A school wellness committee was formed after the School Wellness Mandate in 2004 to raise awareness of wellness issues in the school community. The committee is a dedicated group of teachers, staff, school nurse, school food service, parents, and community members.

Parent Education

  • Nutrition and Cooking Classes
  • Assisting in Classroom, Garden, Community Dinners

Community Partners

  • Baltimore Curriculum Project
  • Creative Alliance
  • Fusion Partnerships
  • Johns Hopkins University SOURCE
  • Community Volunteers – chefs, farmers, gardeners, doctors, artists, carpenters

Grants & Donations

  • Abell Foundation
  • Associated Black Charities
  • Chef Works
  • Elizabeth B. & Arthur E. Roswell Foundation
  • Greenfields Nursery & Landscaping
  • Home Depot
  • Kreiger Foundation
  • Maryland Agricultural Education Foundation
  • Meyer Seed Company
  • Mill Valley Garden Center
  • National Gardening Association
  • National Lumber
  • Weinberg Foundation
  • Whole Foods

Hampstead Hill Academy Principal Matt Hornbeck speaks on how and why to start a food education program at your school. To learn more, contact Matt by email: or cell phone: 410-591-3911.

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