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