A healthy rebellion

CINDY STANSBURY / DAILY NEWS STAFF Tyeesha Butts , 16, works with Jarrett Stein, 27, packaging Rebel Bars. The healthy snack was created for a nutrition class project.
CINDY STANSBURY / DAILY NEWS STAFF Tyeesha Butts , 16, works with Jarrett Stein, 27, packaging Rebel Bars. The healthy snack was created for a nutrition class project.
Posted: July 28, 2014

DONNING APRONS and hairnets, four Philadelphia high school students spent a summer morning packaging upward of 600 granola bars.

Unlike most people their age, they have a business to run and orders to fill.

Rebel Ventures, a student-run enterprise sponsored by the Netter Center for Community Partnerships at the University of Pennsylvania through its Agatston Urban Nutrition Initiative, creates and sells granola bars in West Philadelphia.

"Why are we called Rebel Ventures?" Jarrett Stein, 27, asked the workers.

Tyeesha Butts, 16, said: "In our communities, when we go to the stores, there's just unhealthy snacks everywhere. We bring good, healthy snacks at affordable prices, and we try to make jobs for high school students that don't have any."

The culinary creation, which the students worked on at the Center for Culinary Enterprises on 48th Street near Spruce, consists of six locally sourced ingredients: rolled oats, honey, pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, cinnamon and salt. They are sold at local schools, Penn's campus, cafes, a food co-op, and, more recently, area corner stores. More than 23,200 bars have been sold since January 2013, according to Rebel's website.

The bars are priced competitively, said Stein, director of academic partnerships at the urban initiative. Since a main concern is affordability, prices vary from store to store. Still, a Rebel Bar has never been sold for more than $3 and cost 50 cents in schools.

"At the corner stores in West Philly, snacks usually cost between 50 cents and $1, so we want to make sure that it's in that range. In a cafe, it might be more," Stein said.

"People notice that the youths are making [the bars] and I think that's the biggest impact," said Angel Medina, 17, a founding member of Rebel.

Stein witnessed the program bloom out of a lesson on food access he gave to his students in 2010 while teaching nutrition at Pepper Middle School. Inspired by their complaints of unhealthy snacks, he broke the class into teams, challenging them to create a healthy alternative.

"Obviously one team won," joked Medina, as a fellow student whizzed by balancing a tray heaped with bars.

Out of determination to keep the food discussion growing, Rebel Ventures transitioned its bar from school project to after-school enterprise in 2011, moving to their kitchen facility in 2013, Stein said. Rebel employs six high school students, four Penn undergraduates and one graduate student.

"It's really just a tool for food education," Stein said. "By creating this project, now everyone knows about where our food comes from. Everyone knows about why is it that at a corner store [unhealthy] options are available while [healthy] options are not."

Caren Diamond, general manager of Bridge Cafe in Penn's Huntsman Hall, sells anywhere from 350 to 500 Rebel Bars a week.

"My customers love them," she raved. "They're great - nut-free and gluten-free."

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