Friday, February 7, 2014

Butternut Blogging: How Taste Tests Work

Once we finished the apple taste tests this past fall, it came time for butternut squash! This was the Fayetteville Public School District’s first time putting this vegetable on the menu and it was locally sourced.  The students have already been eating sweet potato fries from a local processing plant, but many had never heard of this oblong-shaped squash. 

Ally (last year’s FoodCorps service member), now contracted Farm-to-School dietitian, along with Morgan Stout, our amazing new Food Service Director, decided that taste tests would be a good way to familiarize the students with this new menu item and help them decide if they’d want it on their lunch tray. 

A huge part of my service year thus far has involved taste tests and I swear by them! These butternut taste tests made a large impact as well. One of the kitchen supervisors reported that the students chose to take 40 lbs. more squash on the day we had the taste test than they did the previous week. Here is our recipe:

We learn a lot from each tasting we coordinate. There a few pitfalls you should be aware of when planning a butternut tasting:

Dino Hands (seriously) 
Always wear gloves if you can! Whatever natural chemical is inside of the butternut squash turns your skin into dinosaur scales all day long.

Frustrated Peeler-Person 
Steaming the squash for 5 minutes prior to peeling it (with a vegetable peeler) makes the skin glide off with ease.

Does It Herself FoodCorps Girl
Whenever you want to introduce a new item/recipe INVOLVE the kitchen staff! They can be a wealth of knowledge with tips on how to do things more efficiently and even if they aren’t they are the ones that will be preparing the food in the future so they need to learn the best ways to do it. Plus some of the best memories were from getting to know the kitchen staff, cooking really brings people together. Change is hard and you want to make the transition to a new menu item enjoyable and encouraging for everyone 

We learned some great lessons about presentation as well: 

Entice DON’T Pressure
I kept telling kids “You don’t have to try it if you don’t want to,” while also saying “It tastes similar to pumpkin pie or sweet potato fries!”

Mouthful of Syllables
Ally and I joked about how we wish we were serving “beets” or “peas” because that would involve a lot less syllables to offer each lunch-line kiddo. At one of the schools I handed out the samples to a table and shortened it to “Do you want to try some squash?” and then after they ate it I explained to them it was called “roasted butternut squash” and one little boy looked very bewildered with this longer name, he right away asked if there was a rash on his face. I said “No,” and quickly asked him “But why?” and he explained that he had a nut allergy. It took me a minute to register the reason for his worries but then I assured him our butterNUTS didn’t have any nuts in them and he was able to relax. Poor kid!

Positive Peer Influence
Some students would have the most disgusted looks on their faces and walk straight past my sample into the lunch room, they basically acted like I was the sun and was getting in their eyes so they shielded their face from my butternut squash. BUT later after their friends had tried it and raved about it they came back acting like they hadn’t just totally ignored me and I happily gave them a sample.

In the end, most students were big fans of butternut squash:

We kept the voting quick and simple for the students,
and highlighted our local squash farmer, David Dickey! 
These results, as well as observing how kids interact with each other around food, reminds me of how easily kids can be influenced and how parents can play a huge role in what children desire to eat. If parents enjoy certain foods kids catch on and in turn, can be more open to those foods. The same goes for friends. Don’t you wish every kid could have a veggie loving kid around at all times? We're working on it. 

- by Kelsie Shearrer

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Guest Post: A Letter from a FoodCorps Service Site Supervisor

The beginnings of Harp's garden.
Photo credit: CT Erickson
A year ago, 25 students and myself stood in the middle of our playground and imagined for the first time what a school garden could look like. We measured…researched…called any person we could get ahold of that possibly knew anything about vegetables. We spent hours scouring the internet for ideas and grants because I knew without a shadow of a doubt that a school garden would be the greatest thing for my students. A few months later, our dream became a reality. On March 15, 2013, 90 kids and four teachers planted the first ever Harp Elementary Community Garden. Our school garden was around 2500 square feet and housed 18 vegetables and six types of flowers. I watched the amazement on my student’s faces and the pride in their voices when they spoke intelligently to an inquiring adult about the difference between annuals and perennials or various vegetables. 

I knew the garden was something I wanted to continue and grow so that it had the potential to reach the 650 students within our school and the parents and community members surrounding it. I had never gardened before and knew that I could never make the full impact I envisioned if I didn’t involve someone else. A few months after our garden was planted, a coworker asked if I had ever heard of FoodCorps. My answer was obviously no, but I was instantly intrigued. I went online and started reading everything I could about this organization. I knew within ten minutes that they would change the face of food education and I wanted to be as much a part of it as possible. 

Service member and site supervisor
are excited at Harp's first egg! 
I filled out the grant application and crossed my fingers that our school would be accepted. After hearing the news that our school approved for a service member, I ran up and down the halls, telling any person who would listen. I knew our impact was about to grow exponentially. Getting a service member at my school has been life changing, not only for my students, but also their family members, and even for myself. I’ve learned more about food advocacy and child nutrition in the months I have had a member than ever before in my life. 

Sheldon, CT's class therapy rabbit, likes fruit too!
What was an experiment in school gardening within the walls of one classroom last year quickly turned into a catalyst that began to change the school culture as a whole. Students, from kindergarten to fifth grade, are explicitly being taught about nutrition and making healthy choices when it comes to food choice. We would be na├»ve to think that information was not making it back to their parents, siblings, and friends. Our school garden is preparing to triple this spring, with the addition of container gardens, a greenhouse, composting, worm buckets, apple trees, and even six chickens! I never imagined this experience would have such a beneficial impact. Applying for a FoodCorps service member was the best decision I have made as an educator in my four years. I get so excited to think about what the future at my school looks like because of the impact our amazing service member has. I’m so excited FoodCorps is planting their feet firmly in the future of education!

- by CT Erickson, Harp Elementary School Service Site Supervisor 

Friday, January 17, 2014

A good year, with more to come

As we dive in to this new year, we wanted to share a few of our thoughts so far:

What makes us beam with pride…

My kindergartners all know the five components of my plate. They are excited to discuss food. We have chickens! We are going to have our first educational lunches in Springdale. The community is genuinely interested in the work we are doing! We have a farmer’s market (to be opened in the Spring). 

I love our community garden and I am proud to have been apart of building it literally from the ground up. I also really enjoyed our Food Day event. 

Also, the difference that the apple tastings and butternut squash tastings have made in the consumption of these products at lunch is very impressive.

What challenges us… 

Coming up with a solid sustainable plan for our community garden has been a little frustrating. There is always lot of trial and error that comes with starting a new initiative like a community garden, but I know with time and patience we will find a model that fits our community best.  

There aren’t enough hours in the day. It’s hard to prioritize what needs to come first, because you want your school to have it all now! Budget is always a challenge too. We have to spend carefully when we do spend. 

The things that make us smile...
I will never forget our first garden and cooking club meeting. I was nervous but super excited to meet my kids. The look on my students faces when we harvested sunflower seeds for the first time was priceless! Now looking back, I feel like time has flown by and we are a little family now. They make me smile everyday, I love them so much! 

I love when the students have “AHA” moments. In science club we work to connect what they’re learning in their classes. It’s always fun to see the moment the lightbulb turns on and the students reach a new conclusion. I also love walking down the hall and having students ask me if we are going to make smoothies or if we can go to the chickens/garden. OR if they can help build worm bins. They’re so ready to help.

- by the FoodCorps Arkansas team

Friday, December 6, 2013

Weed it and Reap

Fifth grade classes make vegetarian tacos with
homemade tortillas for their Thanksgiving lesson.
Last week I taught a Thanksgiving lesson to two fifth grade classes. I described Thanksgiving as a time of year when everyone is cheery; people reach out to thank everyone in their lives for their love and support. For week folks get geeky over new and old recipes. Then, after much anticipation, they come together with the people that matter most to give thanks for food (and chow down). Though we don’t endorse gorging yourself into a sloth-like state, our FoodCorps projects are not too different from what I just described. 

You could say here at Harp we celebrate Thanksgiving every day. Going a festive step further, I say we celebrate New Year’s every day too.  We give thanks and study food, and we reflect upon the problems with food in our society. Much like a daily New Year’s resolution, we seek to do better when we recognize opportunities for improvement. Every class we discuss how to better our eating habits. Our kids are tiny world-changers; and I am forever thankful for all they teach me.
Science club students with Harp's feathered friends. 
I would like to share a few of these lessons.  I believe children are adults without inhibitions. Not only can you learn a lot from a child, but they are also great sources of hope and entertainment! 

Lesson 1: Kids LOVE themselves. I asked science club what they were thankful for. Diego responded, “Diego.” It caught me off guard. “You’re thankful for yourself?” I inquired with a big grin on my face. “Yes I am!” he belted with pride. I go home and think about it and decide that the first step to living a healthy life is valuing one’s self. I admire Diego for his confidence and enthusiasm! 

Lesson 2: Kids are great dancers. As I stated above- kids are adults without inhibitions. So, picture how you dance when you are alone after a long day at work. Now picture twenty kids doing that in public. One day in science club our lesson ended five minutes early. I put on a child appropriate Beyonce song and instructed the kids to copy my dance moves. I am a good dancer, but I pale in comparison to my kiddos. They made sure to tell me that. The first time a student insisted on leading the group, I asked her how she didn’t get nervous acting so goofy in front of her friends. She said that good friends love you no matter how silly you act, and that people who make fun of you are probably just nervous, so you shouldn’t worry about them. “Never be scared of being you, Ms. S”. Wow, I am the one that’s supposed to be teaching them, right? I think of this every time I lift twenty pounds next to a strong athlete at the gym. 

Making apple stamps!
Lesson 3: Children are competitive; they love to win the prize.  I remember this as I make lessons: add an element of competition and then rig it so everyone wins. A child’s competitiveness is very different from that of an adult. As an adult, you compete for the best paper in college so that you will get the best letter of recommendation. You compete for jobs that will affect nearly every aspect of your life. On the other end of the spectrum, students compete to identify a vegetable first so that they can take home a carrot that says “science club’s star student”. One day a student was very upset she didn’t get a carrot to take home. Her friend ripped off part of her carrot, so that she wouldn’t be sad. Yes, they love competition, but they love their peers more.  These small acts of kindness happen all of the time. While they seem so simple, they are full of meaning.

My students never stop teaching me how to be fearless and selfless. They are so brave and innocent. I am thankful for all of the adults in my life, but this year I am most thankful for the 640 tiny teachers I get to work with. The best learning environment is one in which the students learn and teach. “They” say children are the future. It might seem scary when you’re watching them dance like madmen, but for the most part that statement fills me with hope! 

- Destiny Schlinker

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

FC Southeast Needs Your Help!

FoodCorps Seeks Gathering Space in the South!

FoodCorps needs your help finding a location for the first FoodCorps southern regional gathering! Can you think of a place that would work well for hosting 25 food system leaders for a week of training, reflection, and camaraderie? 

Please refer to the this document for more details and submit your bids using this short and sweet Google form. Submissions must be made by Friday, December 13. Please contact with any questions or if you encounter any technical difficulties.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Food Waste is B-a-n-a-n-a-s

After conducting a school wide food audit at Bayyari Elementary School, I would say that we are well on our way to producing some of the healthiest school trash cans around.  

On October 22nd, about forty-five 5th grade students arrived to school a little earlier than usual so that they could have a chance to eat breakfast and begin preparing for Bayyari Elementary’s first food waste audit. The idea for a food waste audit came to me on my first day of service as I was helping out in the school cafeteria. Being new to Bayyari, I was pleasantly surprised as I stood next to the cafeteria’s salad bar watching student after student serve themselves an “all you can eat” helping of fresh fruits and vegetables. I did not know it then, but a few minutes later those immaculate pieces of fruits and veggies would be in the trash. By the end of the lunch period I was shocked at all the produced that was thrown away.

Surely this had to have been a bad day, I thought to myself. The next day I checked in again only to find that hundreds of students were throwing away whole, unpeeled bananas! After talking to some of the cafeteria staff and teacher monitors, I found out that students had to take the bananas to fulfill their federal fruit requirement for the day. I was not the only one who felt unsettled by the cafeteria food waste. Coincidently, I had just meet Rob Moore, an Environmental Educator from Boston Mountain Solid Waste District, who had worked with Bayyari’s Gifted and Talented students the year prior. We discussed the food waste issue and ultimately started to plan the food waste audit.

These kids weren't afraid to get their hands dirty!
Rob and I wanted this audit to be a learning experience about food waste, so we decided to incorporate the food data that we collected in a math lesson. Eight days before the actual audit, we met with the students to explain the
food waste issue and talk about their role. Two days after that we performed a visual audit of both breakfast and lunch programs to get a better sense of how we needed to structure our food collection during the audit. 
Finally, our food audit day had arrived and the kids were ready to take on the challenge - fully equipped with plastic gloves, heavy-duty trash bags, and luggage scales. 

After the students collected the food, they then sorted and determined the pounds of food waste at breakfast that morning. They separated the waste into three piles: Trash, Food, and Milk. Directly following our morning collection, the students went off to class while Rob and I set up the bins and trash bags for the food waste collection at lunch. At the end of the day, I created a display of some of the food that was still "untouched" for some students and staff to see. When I rolled in the cart with the display of food, many of the students became excited and thought I had
brought them snacks to eat. Some students even thought we were going to do a cooking lesson. When I finally told them that the food was recovered from the cafeteria trash bins, they were upset. The students were even more confused when they realized that due to health code regulations, we could not give the food away. These realizations led to a rich discussion with my 5th grade class about food waste, composting, landfills, poverty/food insecurity, and gleaning. In the end, the kids worked hard to collect the “waste.” Together we learned some valuable lessons, but the results were more bitter than sweet.

In our day of food waste collection at the school, we gathered the following data (a majority of which was calculated in a 5th grade math lesson):

Food: 40 lbs.
Milk:  231 unopened milk cartons
Food: 180lbs
Milk:   75.4 lbs (liquid milk separated from the carton by students at lunch)

The food waste in pounds may or may not seem like much for a day, but when replicated over a year, or a student’s 6-year (k-5th grade) elementary career, the numbers escalate very quickly.

Food Waste over 1 year at Bayyari Elementary School:
Food: 7,200 lbs.
Milk:   41,580 unopened milk cartons
Food: 32,400 lbs
Milk:   13,572 lbs (liquid milk separated from the carton by students at lunch)

Food Waste over a 6 year span of the typical elementary student (K-5th grade):
Food: 143,200 lbs.
Milk:   249,480 unopened milk cartons
Food: 194,400 lbs
Milk:   122,148 lbs (liquid milk separated from the carton by students at lunch)

For one day, at one school, with 640 students, we collected enough milk and food to feed several of the families in the community that are struggling with food insecurity. At Bayyari Elementary alone, roughly 95% of the families qualify for free or reduced school meals.

It is hard to come up with a decent response when several of the students ask why it is against “regulations” to redistribute “untouched & unopened” food and milk cartons to families in need.

I have always had a passion for reforming our food system, and this food audit is another small insight to a complex problem. Although the students, staff and I were baffled by the data, I see opportunity for change in their bitter reactions to the results. I hear creativity in action when my 5th grade students talking about solution. Working with food service staff to plan cafeteria taste tests to help students appreciate healthy produce revitalizes my spirits.

Check back for updates on how we’re serving in Springdale, Arkansas to create healthier student bodies - not healthier school trash cans.

- by Cecilia Hernandez

Monday, November 11, 2013

Juggling with Grace

 Hello out there my fellow FoodCorps humans in Internetland! 

Have you ever felt a little overwhelmed? I know I have, especially lately. We can all get comfortable with routine and start to take the consistency and mundane for granted. Moving to Fayetteville, Arkansas and starting my position, as a FoodCorps Service Member has certainly given me a new appreciation for consistency and mundane that I can access when it seems that everything else is change.

Fayetteville is a beautiful place to re-locate, especially in late summer. I was lucky to walk into a still-sweaty summer with two school gardens in full bloom. Both Owl Creek School and Holt Middle School were well maintained and bursting with fresh fruit, veggies and herbs thanks to the efforts of the community, including previous FoodCorps Arkansas service members Ally and Sophia.

Now that you’re here with me, nestled in the beautiful Ozark hills of Fayetteville, allow me to take you through the valleys of my challenges, up the hills of my triumphs and ultimately to the top of the hill, where clarity comes during sunsets.

I have been tasked with curriculum integration in the three area middle schools, co-leading 2 after-school garden clubs that meet weekly, maintaining and expanding two existing school gardens and breaking ground on a third. This all seemed so straightforward in the job description, and really it is pretty clear. The factor I didn’t originally take fully into account was just how to go about doing this. I had ideas of what it all would look like, but didn’t fully know what to expect. This said, I have had a quick and busy introduction to exactly what this description is all about.

Since starting in my new position, with the Fayetteville Public School’s Sustainability Office, I have been working feverishly on the previously described tasks and goals. What does it look like to integrate a garden, food and nutrition into curriculum? So far it’s been a joy and a little nerve wracking at the same time. I have had the privilege to step into three classrooms and host one in the garden, now just over two months into my service.

I’ve co-taught two 5th grade science classes about “The Compost Pile as an Ecosystem” and vermicomposting, also known as worm composting. I have co-taught one 7th grade Social Studies class about the connection of Ancient Egyptian farming of grains to modern day, with a focus on labor, nutrition and social organization. Finally, I had the privilege of co-teaching a Read-180 class, a reading intervention program for struggling readers, about migrant farmworkers as it pertained to their class on immigration.

Sean leads an apple tasting for F2S month.
 What does co-leading garden clubs look like? So far, I’ve been lucky to walk into the two previously mentioned beautiful and well-maintained school gardens. Both Holt and Owl Creek schools have after-school garden clubs, though they look quite different. Holt’s club is led by the fearless 6th grade science and social studies teacher, Justin Leflar. Justin has been great to work with because he is so passionate and dedicated to Holt’s garden and community. The garden has aptly been named “Holt Community Garden”.

Co-leading this club has been exciting and tiring at times. Justin has done a great job of communicating and helping me to relax when I get wound up about making the perfect cooking lesson for 5th-7th graders. So far, I’ve led lessons both in the garden and kitchen, drafting up a weekly 101 of a new topic or re-enforcing a skill taught previously.

Owl Creek’s club looks different from Holt’s, as we have an age range of 2nd-7th graders. This range should not be taken for granted when planning for a club meeting – it necessitates a very strategic approach in planning. Providing a fulfilling experience for both a 2nd grader that has never seen a garden and a seasoned 7th grader that has been in Lisa Richardson’s 5th grade science class and has known about compost for 2 whole years is indeed a challenge. It’s been a joy to work with Lisa ,who co-leads the club with myself and another community member from Apple Seeds, Eden Stewart. It’s been a joy to work with Lisa, learning again my most valued and consistent lessons thus far, clear communication, patience and confidence that it will all work out.

Leading a vermicomposting lesson.
 Maintaining the gardens, adding on and eventually breaking ground on a third are tasks in and of themselves that require observation of what already exists, considering the potential, and working towards that potential daily. Check back for updates on just what maintaining, expanding and breaking ground on school gardens looks like. 

For now, I will leaf (pun-intended) you with visions of the beautiful explosion of fall colors blanketing these ancient hills of Northwest Arkansas. Soon the leaves will crunch to the touch. It seems that reminding myself of this natural beauty, at sunset each night, is the key to keeping everything else in order.

- By Sean Coder