In 1855, Pennsylvania State University was founded as a public supported agricultural college as a part of  “The Land Grant Act”. For Penn State Alumni that old news, but here’s the “new” news, former Penn State Football player Rick Sayles is making his way around the state to foster agricultural awareness and at risk children are his focus. Rick founded Penn’s Civilians in 2003 to spread the word about horticulture and agriculture coupled with responsibility and leadership to urban youth. Over the years, since the unveiling of this project, Rick and I have discussed his passion for the program and different ways to disseminate this information around Pennsylvania and nationwide.

Rick hales from McKeesport, Pennsylvania and earned a scholarship to Penn State as a football standout…Rick’s life took a dramatic turn many years ago.  Check out the link

On the day of the Men’s NCAA Basketball finals, I caught up with Rick to chat about Penn’s Civilians, grab a bite to eat, and go head to head shooting some hoops at the Coliseum Restaurant Camp Hill, Pa. Rick and I have a rich history of arguing…. oh I mean debating…..I couldn’t wait to hit the game room to take him down….so I thought

Rick’s mantra “Every Day is Earth Day”

Often many children raised in urban environments have not been exposed to the satisfaction of growing and harvesting their own fruits and vegetables. Rick, Penn’s Civilians, the USDA-NRC, Master Gardner’s, and other local businesses are dedicated to educating these youth about the power of self-sustainability, recycling, and preservation of our global community.

“Carver’s Secret Garden” is a part of the program name after George Washington Carver because of his life’s work in the area of agricultural research.  

Self-sustainability begins with teaching one to cultivate their own garden. Rick has designed these 4 foot by 8 flower boxes that allow for gardens to flourish in any area. Rick works with his students on box design, plant science, economic benefits, and environmental awareness.

One of the many volunteers involved with Carver’s Secret Garden…

 On the first day of spring, Rick and community members, assisted students at Marshall School in Harrisburg to plant seeds in milk cartons. An excellent way to recycle…The next step will be on Earth Day April 20th. An assembly will be hosted for the students with music, plays, and songs focusing on “going green”.  Students will replant their flowers around the property of the school for beautification of their building. Pride in their school and community is the start to global awareness.

Building greenhouses are another component to this program that allows for urban gardening. This particular nursery is on the campus of Steelton-Highspire near Harrisburg. 

Another goal Rick has….something like the folks at Hidden Valley…kids eating more vegetables. And yes…Rick did ask me to share some of my favorite vegetable dishes……

To support or donate to the Penn’s Civilians check out the link below..

After Rick and I talked about his progress with Penn’s Civilians…it was time for me to head in for the kill..March Maddness was wrapping up and I was on my college basketball high….win or go home darn it!!!!

It is apparent that I thought I won our head to head show down….the score tells the true story…Not only was Rick an All-American in football while in high school he was also an All-State basketball player..go figure

That didn’t stop me…..I had to prove my talent

After about four games, I had to concede. Please note Rick has agreed to a 5k race this summer. Let’s see who comes out on top!!! 🙂

Now to some good food!!!!!

 Rick and his students grow basil and lots of it. What an incredible herb to use for so many dishes. What I am sharing is my basic pesto recipe which can be used for pastas, sandwiches, eggs, appetizers and so much more… This is delicious


  • 2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts
  • 3 medium sized garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 Combine the basil in with the pine nuts, pulse a few times in a food processor. (If you are using walnuts instead of pine nuts and they are not already chopped, pulse them a few times first, before adding the basil.) Add the garlic, pulse a few times more.

2 Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor is on. Stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula. Add the grated cheese and pulse again until blended. Add a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

 3. Toast baguettes with butter, add marinara sauce, mozzarella, and/or just toast baguette slices. Toast at 350 degrees for 5-8 minutes. Top with pesto

Sweet Potato Chips with Pesto Mayo…

  • Vegetable, for frying
  • 2 large sweet potatoes washed
  • kosher salt


In a large sauce pan, heat oil to 350 degrees F.

Thinly slice potatoes into round disks, about 1/4-inch thick. Fry for 1 1/2 to 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Remove from oil and drain on a paper towel. Sprinkle with kosher salt

Now for the pesto mayo….

1/2 cup sour cream

1/2 cup mayonassie

1/4 cup pesto

juice of half a lemon

mix together in a small bowl….

Eggplant Fries and Stuffed Eggplant Rolls served with marinara sauce

Eggplant Fries…

– cut 2 eggplants into 1 inch strips

– 2 cups of flour seasoned with garlic powder, salt, and pepper

– 4 eggs whisked in a bowl

– 4 cups of panko bread crumbs seasoned with parsley, garlic powder, salt, and pepper

– large skillet with vegetable oil at 350 degrees

After eggplant is cut..set up dredging station…

flour-egg-panko bread crumbs

place eggplant in flour then the eggs and lastly the panko bread crumbs. Fry until golden brown. Drain on a plate with a paper towel and season with salt when hot…. serve with marinara sauce

Stuffed Eggplant Rolls

– 1 mediums sized eggplant

– 1/4 pound of cut spaghetti ( I use Barilla brand)

– cup mozzeralla cheese

– 4 cups marinara sauce divided

-olive oil

-galic powder, salt, and pepper

– Using a mandolin cut eggplant into 1/2 inch slices. A medium eggplant should give you at least 15-20. Saute slices of eggplant in a medium skillet with a bit of olive oil. Season lightly with garlic powder, salt, and pepper.

-While sauteing eggplant, cook spaghetti to “Al Dente” about 6 minutes

– Drain spaghetti

– After eggplant slices are sauteed, spread on marinara sauce, sprinkle with cheese, and add spaghetti. Roll tightly and hold together with toothpick.

– Put 1 cup of marinara sauce in 13×9 baking dish, place rolls in dish, top with more marinara sauce, and mozzarella cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.

Serve with marinara sauce…I love marinara in case you can’t tell

I applaud Rick’s work and hope he can continue to “grow” his program…. 🙂

Remember…Who Do You Want In Your Kitchen On Game Day?