Students Dig into Healthy Living
Summer Program for Baltimore Teens Kicks Off Fourth Year

This is part of a series about Mission Thrive Summer, a program of the Institute for Integrative Health and Civic Works' Real Food Farm that empowers youth with skills and knowledge for a healthy life.


This week, 30 Baltimore City high school students began Mission Thrive Summer, our program designed to  empower youth with tools for making healthy decisions. Throughout July, they’ll be farming, cooking, and planning nutritious meals; developing leadership and life skills; and getting physically and mentally fit through regular exercise and mindfulness sessions.

Now in its fourth year, Mission Thrive Summer is a collaboration between the Institute for Integrative Health and Civic Works’ Real Food Farm, where the program takes place.


After four days of orientation, the first week of Mission Thrive Summer ended with a chance for students to get their hands dirty digging, weeding, mulching, and tending to the many varieties of crops raised at Real Food Farm.


The participants, rising ninth and tenth graders selected from Baltimore City schools, learned how to care for strawberry plants, tasting a few samples along the way.


Peer crew leaders, selected from program alumni and staff members, helped show participants the ropes. Tomato plants, the students discovered, need to be staked to prevent damage to the fruit.


Students also learn the importance of wearing proper protection, such as gardening gloves, and how to be safe around equipment.

Hoop House

While one Mission Thrive Summer crew worked in the farm’s greenhouses and gardens, another one was inside learning a new and potentially delicious set of skills: how to cook chicken fried rice for a crowd.

After reading the recipe, organizing the ingredients, and breaking into smaller teams, participants got down to business prepping vegetables, boiling rice, and making sure their dish had just the right amount of spices.

Corn prep Spicing

There was one final step before eating: Students plated the food to show it off to the group. 

“The role of the head chef is to present their dishes to their guests,” said Brandin Bowden, our senior community programs manager, who leads the cooking and nutrition component of Mission Thrive Summer.

PlatingPlate 2

Students voted on which of the two dishes was the most visually pleasing, and this one was the winner:

Plate 1

Finally, it was time to eat!

Double portion

One of Mission Thrive’s mottos is “Try it on.” That means, when it comes to new foods, and new experiences, everyone needs to keep an open mind. Students are encouraged to try something at least once before passing judgement.

After their healthy and well-earned lunch, Brandin led the students in a mindfulness exercise. When practiced regularly, mindfulness activities foster mental resilience and the ability to focus.

“We expose kids to a lot of things they may not be accustomed to,” he said.