Before you reach the large glass doors adorned with a familiar logo, you’re greeted by the laughter of children and families as they explore the covered learning garden. Parents and grandparents show their kids how to harvest green beans and cucumbers; together, they observe the pollinators at work. Each group has a basket to collect fresh produce which will be donated to the food rescue. Across from the learning garden, you see families gathered around games and activities that teach about agriculture and sustainability. Off in the distance, a museum volunteer conducts a tomato taste test with a group of teens.
Inside there are no lines or ticket collectors, just signs requesting donations to help keep the museum available to all. You head to the cafe to grab a coffee and pastry. With barely enough time to take a bite or skim the short cultural blurbs printed on the mug and napkins, your kids pull you towards the first stop of the morning, Ancient Foods, an exhibit about ancient civilizations around the world. After participating in a kid-friendly archaeological dig, they lead you through the exhibit, narrating the experience and sharing how the archaeologists pieced together history through preserved food records. They talk about historical food sovereignty, concepts of repatriation, and ethical archaeology.
Next, it’s on to the second floor to see an exhibit about coffee, tea, and chocolate. Your family is most excited about the latter! You head to the Chocolate Lab, where you participate in a 15-minute workshop to learn how chocolate goes from bean to bar. You hold a fresh cocoa pod, grind up cacao nibs, and stir some tempered chocolate. You vow to purchase some of the Museum-made truffles from the gift shop on your way out.
After exiting the lab, you explore the craft of chocolate - from Aztec and Mayan chocolate drinks (samples included) to contemporary candy bars. You learn about the agricultural significance and human rights issues impacting global cacao production. You listen as your children discuss fair trade versus direct trade.
For lunch, your family makes a beeline back to the cafe, which houses one of your favorite permanent exhibits: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: Eating on the Road. Inside, you explore the ways in which transportation has changed what and how we eat. You place your order at the diner (housed in an old train car) and wander around as you wait on your food. When the Museum app indicates that your food is ready, you return to the diner and decide where you would most like to eat — in the restored 1920s train dining car, aboard a 1950s airplane, or in a classic 1970s station wagon.
When you’re finished, your family heads to the teaching kitchen to see one of the rotating exhibits: Dumplings. Dumpling-like foods appear in cultures around the world. Today, the Museum is partnering with a local Chinese restaurant to teach visitors about the different fillings used to make dumplings and techniques for folding. You chuckle to yourself because lunch seemed unnecessary, now that you have dumplings to sample.
By the end of the demonstration, everyone is pretty tired from their fun (and messy) time in the kitchen, but no one is ready to leave. There’s still more to do. You tell them not to worry: We’ll come again tomorrow.