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It started with pickling cucumbers in a spicy, peppery juice.   Then continued with squishing strawberries into a chunky, tasty jam.
This week, kids at the Vacaville Neighborhood Boys & Girls Club put their culinary skills to the test by making authentic pesto by hand.
The project, apparently, was a mixture of frugality, sustainability and creativity.
“We have a ton of basil,” acknowledged Susan Schwartz, a longtime beloved volunteer, as she indicated three giant containers of the aromatic herb. “We made it last year and it was such a big hit.”
Basil is just one of the many crops grown at club headquarters on Holly Lane. The kids tend to the plants, under Schwartz’s supervision, and the abundance nourishes not only the kids’ bellies, but also their hearts and minds.
During the year, the produce is used in cooking classes at the club, teaching healthy eating tips that the youth can share with their families. The food also is used to feed the homeless at Opportunity House, where the kids prepare a meal or two for the clients getting back on their feet. Kids also learn self sustainability through preserving, and also have taken extra produce home themselves.
The next frontier is all about business and taking their wares to market.
This week’s goodies will be used in upcoming cooking sessions. “I teach healthy cooking classes and we’re making rainbow pizza with all the colorful vegetables,” said Michaella Stokes, part of the club’s youth development staff. “I thought this would be a great thing to put on our pizzas.”
“Pizza! Pizza!” chanted the clutch of kids handling the pesto ingredients.
As the heady scent of garlic wafted through the kitchen area, the pint-sized participants got busy.
Calling for “extra vinegar olive oil,” Sarah Quintero, 7, had fellow helpers throwing garlic cloves, cheese, basil, pine nuts and the oil — extra virgin olive oil, that is — into a food processer and cheering as it whirred.
Sarah added that she’s made pesto before and she likes it “not spicy,” though she gamely threw in more and more garlic cloves as the class wore on.
Sampling a bit of the condiment on one finger, Emma Sturgis, 7, declared it was acceptable.
“Yeah, it’s good,” she said, savoring it. “It’s good.”
Samantha Santos Valle, 7, focused more on the journey than the destination.
“It was fun and I had to wash my hands a lot,” she explained.
Likely because she and a bunch of the other girls were demonstrating gymnastics tricks prior to the class and prone to sampling during.
For Michelle Garcia, 7, the whole process was exciting.
“You want me to tell you what I do?” she asked. “I do a lot. (And) I like it.”

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