High Rocks Grow Appalachia and our friends at Pocahontas County Farm-to-School continue to fight the good fight of getting fresh, local produce from farm to plate. But the objective of getting the produce from plate to mouth provides and equal, if different, challenge. One essential way for us to spread our enthusiasm for vegetables is by starting with the youth. What began in October as an idea for National School Lunch week has transformed into a semi-regular local vegetable feature in Pocahontas County schools.
Sweet, crunchy and brightly-colored, carrots were a natural first choice for getting kids excited about vegetables. Kaitlen Whitt, our AmeriCorps connection at Allegheny Mountain Radio, volunteered at Hillsboro Elementary and produced a radio story about the experience:
Do you know the four colors that carrots come in? How about the country in which carrots originated? Thanks to Grow Appalachia, the students of Marlinton and Hillsboro Elementary School know the answers! In celebration of national school lunch week, Rachel Wilson, AmeriCorps volunteer and Erica Marks, organization coordinator doled out red and orange carrots on October 23rd in Marlinton and October 24th in Hillsboro . Grown behind the Hillsboro House by the High Rocks Educational Corporation the carrots were a welcomed treat at both schools. With many fun facts provided by Rachel, the students were not only able to taste carrots, but learn about them too. One third grader said she had, “never tasted a carrot before,” but planned to ask her mom to cook them. Most students had never tasted a red carrot before, but one preschooler was surprised at how, “awesome and sweet they tasted!” With the help of head cook Doris Sharp, Rachel prepared carrot fries to accompany the students’ lunches; seconds, and even thirds were in high demand. Erica ran a contest at both schools to see which carrot the students preferred. At Marlinton Elementary, orange carrots were voted best tasting, but at Hillsboro Elementary the students liked both carrots so much they declared a tie. When asked how she felt about the idea of eating local foods one second grader at Hillsboro Elementary said it was, “nice to eat vegetables from just across the road.” The only complaint the student’s had about the event was that the, “carrot ladies,” would not be returning the following day.
The carrot activity was such a success that we decided to expand to another popular vegetable – the potato. Most elementary school students have had many experiences with the humble brown and white Russet, but we wanted to introduce them to less familiar varieties. We roasted a medley of gold, purple and pink potatoes for students to taste test. Although the familiar yellow potato was the undisputed favorite, many students also found all of the colors equally delicious. Each class (Pre-K through grade 5) was also given a couple of small potatoes to grow in a recycled plastic bottle of soil.
We hope to continue this school lunch vegetable feature with the aim of getting kids excited about vegetables and invested in their own food choices. Even if they try a new vegetable and don’t like it, we have at least succeeded in giving them the confidence to try new things. We believe that the way children are taught to approach vegetables is a vital aspect of cultivating a healthy food culture. Quality vegetables can be the highlight of a meal, not just foods to suffer through before we can get dessert.