HUTCHINSON, Kan. (KSNW) — A free summer camp dedicated to teaching children how to find, prepare and cook nutritious food is going strong in Hutchinson.

“We are making eggplant meatballs and spaghetti, and right now, we are working on the pasta and getting the meatballs prepared,” said 11-year-old Hope Yohn.

Kitchen Hero Academy (KHA), now in its second year, is the brainchild of Hutchinson native and Occupational Therapist Dr. Megan Barlety.

A group of campers boil noodles for eggplant spaghetti (KSN Photo)

“I ran a needs assessment, and I found some alarming statistics that we have a very large percentage of our children and their families here in Hutchinson, specifically in Reno County, that are experiencing food insecurity,” Bartley explained. “With that, I developed this program to hopefully address and alleviate some of the negative, long-term effects of food insecurity in our community.”

The 10-week program is open to USD 308 students who have completed the 7th grade. The middle schoolers learn everything from how to use kitchen appliances, how to find nutritious groceries on a budget and how to cook a variety of meals.

“So we want our Kitchen Heroes and their families and our community to be able to access foods at farmers’ markets or compare food prices at the store to work on their budgeting,” said Bartley. “We are able to send home pots and pans, cooking utensils, cookbooks, and aprons so that they can continue these skills in the future.”

The program’s future appears bright. Thanks to a number of community sponsors, each camper is able to attend the camp for free. They’re also able to work on their own community garden at the Hutchinson Zoo. Bartley has dreams of expanding beyond Hutchinson.

“I would love for it to not only go statewide, nationally, but I would love for KHA to be an internationally based program for rural communities,” she said.