Friday, October 19, 2012

Opening minds, one bite at a time

Today at Root Elementary, it was Crazy Hat Day. It was also the Fayetteville Public Schools’ first National Farm to School Month apple tasting. I’d say it was a grand success! Moms and dads from the parent teacher organization, students, and teachers alike enjoyed learning about apples and Arkansas apple history while sitting in the warm fall sun. Students sampled and voted on their favorite apple, two of which were heirloom varieties. This afternoon, we will tally the results to post at the school, and send home to parents with fun apple facts and simple recipes using the winning apple variety.
For the next three weeks, we will be sharing the joy of local apples and the Farm to School program with nine schools. I am so impressed by the enthusiasm and participation in the tastings; the majority of schools in the district have decided to host the PTO-sponsored event. It seems the school staff and administrators were encouraged by the students’ excitement for local ingredients during last year’s Farm to School educational lunches and were eager to do more.
Farm to School is broadly defined as a program that connects schools (K-12) and local farms with the objectives of serving healthy meals in school cafeterias, improving student nutrition, providing agriculture, health and nutrition education opportunities, and supporting local and regional farmers. So, why is hosting a Farm to School event important? Could one event really make a difference in school or family eating and purchasing habits? My questions were answered today.
“Yummy! I’ve never eaten an Arkansas Black apple, but I love it! Where can you buy them?” exclaimed one first grader wearing a chic fedora hat. “How would I help support getting more local fruits and vegetables in the Root school lunches?” asked one interested PTO mom. The discussion begins, and one by one, habits can change. Maybe one or two items on the grocery list are now locally grown. Or perhaps there is a special stop made at the Farmer’s Market to pick up Arkansas Black apples every weekend in the fall. Or the PTO sends an inspiring email to the school principal and the District Child Nutrition Director. Small events can make a big difference.
In the last month or so that I have been serving with FoodCorps, many projects have caused me to reevaluate my definition of impact. Prior to National Farm to School Month, I thought a school apple tasting would be a fun event and give kids a break from the usual classroom routine while putting some extra cash in a few local producers’ pockets. These tastings do support and promote local farmers, but now I also see that these meaningful events start discussions about trying new foods and buying locally produced items that can have a big impact on eating habits and the sustainability of our local farms. Today was the first local apple tasting, I can’t wait to see the impact of the next eight.

To see video of the tasting at Root Elementary, click here.
by Ally Mrachek 

Ally is a Registered Dietitian, Master Composter and FoodCorps Service Member. She graduated with a Master’s of Science in Food Science and Human Nutrition from Colorado State University. She recently moved from Seattle, WA to Fayetteville, AR for a year to serve students, local farmers and the community in partnership with the public school district. She grew up on a fruit farm in agricultural Eastern Washington State and sees her service year as an adventure with a purpose.

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