Isha Kasai, 26, has enjoyed cooking since she was a little girl, cherishing the moments she spent helping her mother prepare meals for the family. She participated in the St. Mary’s Nutrition Center Lots to Garden program. From there she started taking culinary classes through Lewiston High School, expanding her skills while learning about nutrition and healthy foods, along with kitchen safety.

Somali Bantu Community Association Youth Program Coordinator Isha Kasai, center, helps children plant food at a local community garden.

The experiences expanded her love for cooking. She prepared new meals with her nieces and nephews whenever she had a chance, sharing bonding moments.

As the Somali Bantu Community Association youth program coordinator, last summer she worked with teens and children weekly to help foster their cooking skills and try new foods, helping them create different recipes. Earlier this year, the Auburn resident was one of the recipients of The Good Food Council of Lewiston-Auburn’s 2023 Youth Food Champion Award for her work.

What about cooking bonded you and your family members? Cooking bonded my family members and me through shared experiences, teamwork and communicating food background. Learning why a particular meal is culturally relevant to us was a bonding moment. Also, cooking together allowed us to learn and teach one another new skills.

What are some of the ways in which you make this type of learning fun for children? I ensure youth have fun by taking them on field trips to visit local farms where they can interact with animals and garden their crops while gaining agricultural knowledge. I’ve personally never taught in a classroom setting, but just from my own experience of learning, I believe children learn and engage in activities more when they gain hands-on experience.

What tends to fascinate and engage children the most when they are learning about food? I think that hands-on learning about food is the most fascinating way to engage our youth with the food system through activities like visiting Somali Bantu Community Association Liberation Farm in Wales. Youth get to participate in growing their foods and the opportunity to cook with those fruits and vegetables.


The children enjoy making tacos, burritos/wraps, salads with freshly grown produce, along with French toast and English muffins to name a few favorites.

Isha Kasai, Somali Bantu Community Association Youth Program coordinator.

Why is it important that children understand local food systems? I think it’s important for children to understand our local food system because knowing the value of where your food comes from enables a greater appreciation for your local community and healthier eating habits. Also, learning about our local food system provides insight into the economic benefits of supporting local farmers and businesses.

What is the value of farm-to-table eating? The value of farm-to-table eating ensures access to fresh nutritious food, supports local farmers and has a positive impact on the environment. Farm-to-table food takes fewer routes to get to your plate, this enables a strong sense of community by purchasing with local farmers.

The economic benefits to farm-to-table eating are the boost our local economy gets and it also creates employment opportunities for people involved in farming. Employment opportunities for locals who love to farm can be lost when food is shipped from farther away.

The freshness, flavor and taste of food can all be lost when food has to travel thousands of miles Also, importing from far away contributes to environmental hazards like greenhouse gas emissions. Supporting local farmers/businesses promotes food security ensuring a reliable, fresh supply of food.

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