What is about to be reported here deserves a moment of reflection. Last year, when the new Ecology Club/Gardening parent sponsors proposed integrating Farm to School curriculum into the school-day to include all Chesnut students, we certainly thought we were discussing a date far off in the future. Well, this week, a little more than one year later, that date has come to pass!
The credit for this quick adoption goes to Chesnut’s P.E. Coach Lonny Dykema, who readily joined the new Wellness Team when it was created earlier this year to encourage Chesnut’s compliance with DeKalb’s Wellness Policy. When he suggested to parents that he could host Wellness Team guest speakers for a special nutrition/health unit during a week of P.E. classes, Wellness Team Co-Chairs Jessica Falk-Spencer and Angela Renals jumped at the opportunity to reach every student at Chesnut.
Our intent was to apply Farm to School concepts to nutrition education, by helping students see their foods as plants they themselves might grow, whose health benefits can be deciphered by color, empowering them to make healthy choices. After researching National Health Education Standards and creative Farm to School lesson plans from other states, we crafted this “Tasting a Rainbow of Plants” lesson plan. It is divided into two major components: 1. Six Plant Parts We Eat guessing game where students pick a whole food out of a bag and try to name it and identify it as one or several plant parts; 2. Tasting a Rainbow of Plants where students have the opportunity to taste one fruit and vegetable each from 5 color groups while we examine how each color gives them “super powers.”
So how did it go? Over three days, Coach Dykema and Wellness Team parents Angela Renals, Jessica Falk-Spencer and Jo Chin hosted 475 Chesnut students during their P.E. class.
The mustard greens (which were often pulled out of the bag to a chorus of “WHOA!”), artichoke, yuca and cauliflower frequently stumped our guessers as to what they were and which plant part. One fifth grader had trouble identifying a stalk of celery, which Coach Dykema turned into a lesson, pointing out that many of us didn’t know what the mustard greens were — it all depends on what’s normal in your family. He explained that that is why we keep our comments to ourselves during the tasting, to respect each other’s differences of opinion and experience.
Most children were open to trying something new, and required gentle reminders to keep their reactions in their minds, because they were often surprised by the tastes in their cups: grape, purple cabbage, green bean, Granny smith apple, yellow bell pepper, persimmon, jicama, Asian pear, red kidney bean and pomegranate seed.
Parent Jo Chin encouraged children to close their eyes and experience the texture of the food on their tongue, offering descriptive words for what they might be experiencing. Ms. Chin was a driving force behind the success of this program and a perfect fit for the team, as she loves cooking and eating delicious food! She opened her home and vast cooking supplies to prep 5,000 pieces of tasting samples, carted the foods back and forth each day to fill the muffin cups, and hosted the tasting for each class.
Our thanks go out to her, Coach Dykema, music teacher Ms. Hunter and Ms. Rafferty for keeping everything running smoothly. Also especially to Principal Ms. Williams and Assistant Principal Mr. McFarlane for approving this program and demonstrating their support by literally sitting down with the children to taste right alongside them. And most importantly, to Chesnut’s students, for participating with enthusiasm. They certainly had their favorites, about which we polled them at each class’ end, to hear their suggestions as to what we should grow in our school garden. Here’s their rankings:
1. Pomegranate, 2. Apples, 3. Asian Pear, 4. Grapes, 5. Persimmon, 6. Red Kidney Beans, 7. Yellow Bell Pepper, 8. Jicama, 9. Onions, 10. Watermelon, 11. Carrots, 12. Cabbage.
Through the cafeteria staff’s participation on Wellness Team, we have cooperated to display healthy eating messages on their cafeteria bulletin board. The new “SuperKids Love Colorful Foods” board outside the cafeteria line is designed to extend this week’s Farm to School nutrition lessons, by featuring a different color produce every 6 weeks, with examples of fruits and vegetables (labeled as plant parts), and demonstrating which nutrients (“Superfuel”) are giving Super Kid super powers. In a word, it’s all super.