Chesnut Wins Gardening Grant Just in Time to Fund 3rd Graders’ Presidential Campaign

Anne Marie Walkup, Erika Peltier and Nakailey Jackson for Chesnut President!

These third grade Chesnut Changers want “a bigger garden so the lunch ladies will have fresher food to cook for the kids.” And they are not afraid to get their hands dirty planting it! 2013 F2S if I were pres

Kitchen Gardeners International to the rescue! Today they listed Chesnut Garden as one of their Sow It Forward full grant winners. They must agree with these young ladies that this program is worthy of presidential attention, because they selected Chesnut as one of 50 winners out of 925 applicants from 48 states and 11 countries.

The grant includes $300 cash, $200 garden supply gift card, $55 worth of seeds, a book and one-year subscription to KGI Garden Planner. Thank you KGI!

We plan to use the money to fulfill the wish of fifth grade teacher Timika Howard, who thought of using geometrically shaped raised beds as math teaching tools for area and division. Whether or not they are elected to School President, Ms. Peltier, Ms. Walkup, and Ms. Jackson WILL soon have a bigger Chesnut Garden, where as fifth graders, they will decide what to grow in their new beds. Though they won’t make it into the lunchroom because of county regulations, their crops could certainly become another math lesson, as the students measure quantities in a recipe, for a delicious snack they grew themselves!

Chesnut Changers are Multiplying! Was It the Pizza?

Last year when Chesnut’s Ecology Club launched, about 30 students signed up to become Chesnut Changers. They created the club’s pledge, brainstormed slogans to promote DeKalb County’s Farm-to-School monthly lunches, and had plenty of fun learning how to be good stewards of their environment.

We ended our inaugural year with a delicious celebration of eating local: winning a grant to fund fresh-baked pizzas with organic, Georgia-grown toppings for everyone on Field Day. This was a big hit with the kids and adults alike, which we hoped would increase support for Farm-to-School programs at Chesnut.

The first encouraging sign as we returned to school this year, was the PTA and administration agreeing to form a new Wellness Committee to oversee Ecology Club and other programs that support DeKalb County’s Wellness Policy. The first meeting is Tuesday, Sept. 11th, 3 pm, in Mr. Shiverick’s classroom — join us!

Then there were the sign-up sheets that accompanied a tri-fold poster board advertising Ecology Club activities. These were meant to gauge parents’ interest in Ecology Club on Registration Day and Curriculum Night. Additional pages had to be added, as the list of names spilled into the margins.

Next our principal, Ms. Veronica Williams, approved a bulletin board for us in the cafeteria (thank you Mr. Slayton for installing so quickly!) where we can generate awareness about the benefits of local, healthy eating and the DeKalb County Farm-to-School food of the month.

Though we were encouraged by these signs, little did we expect the response once registration forms were sent home:

Our numbers have doubled!

Currently about 60 children have signed up for Ecology Club. It’s important to note that we have also doubled our parent involvement. Parent Jenny Bell, certified in children’s yoga, will lead us in Garden Yoga at the start of each meeting. We have three parent sponsors, and more parents who plan to attend our kick-off meeting today (more on that in a later post). We also have Chesnut Kindergarten teachers Mr. Mark Chicoine and Ms. Ginna Hobgood helping run our meetings.  Our intent is to focus on hands-on activities to keep everyone engaged, and ask lots of questions to get the kids thinking and contributing to our programs.

We hope this growth trend will eventually merit a look at how we can incorporate Farm-to-School curriculum into the schoolday, so as to include all students. And we thank all our new families for becoming Chesnut Changers!

Strawberries, Arugula and Torpedo Onions Triumph over Cotton Candy

This year at Chesnut Charter Elementary’s Field Day, there were some unique elements at the food station: a pizza baker and a farmstand. Thanks to a $2,300 grant awarded by Georgia Organics through DeKalb County Board of Health’s Obesity Initiative “Communities Putting Prevention to Work,” students and staff were treated to freshly baked pizzas topped with locally grown produce, a portion of which they each took home. The Chesnut Changers conceived of this farm-to-school program to demystify the farmers market experience and discuss the benefits of eating healthy, local food.

Chesnut Elementary’s Garden Leader Carissa Malone delivers freshly harvested herbs from the Chesnut Garden to top the Field Day pizzas.

Where once was a cotton candy machine, now stood a mobile wood-fired oven, whose delicious aromas had the classes coming in droves to see what was for snack. All were offered a square of strawberry-mint-ricotta pizza and a square of arugula-onion-parsley pizza. Chesnut Garden Leader Carissa Malone contributed the herbs from the school garden, while the strawberries, onions and arugula were provided by Dave Bentoski of D&A Farm in Zebulon, Georgia, and Nicolas Donck of Crystal Organic Farm in Newborn, Georgia. Vegans and strawberry-allergic students were accommodated and all got a chance to watch Jonathan of S&J’s Woodfired Pizza at work.

“Guess when this food was picked? Yesterday!”

As they munched away, students contemplated a poster created by the Chesnut Changers at our recent after-school meeting, comparing the distance their vegetables had traveled (about 60 miles) to their usual trip from Florida or the West Coast (from 400 to over 2,300 miles). Chesnut Changers helped explain why local produce is highly nutritious (it ripens on the plant and you eat it before it begins to break down) and better for the environment (it saves fuel and reduces air pollution). Several students were shocked to learn that the produce had been harvested the day before, and tried to estimate how long ago food would have been picked to arrive at Chesnut from the West Coast.

The children turned to wave at Farmer Dave, who had prepared bunches of arugula and onions for the children to take home. As the students lined up to select their produce, Chesnut Changers brought out a second poster, “Growing Arugula,” depicting the seed-to-harvest story of Farmer Dave hard at work.

Chesnut Changer Kindergartener Megan McCloskey tells the story of arugula

Several faces lit up when it was suggested that the fresh produce would make a lovely Mother’s Day present: “That’s a great idea! I’m going to hide mine under my bed and surprise her!” (We advised refrigeration).

To extend education to the home, each child’s produce bag included two handouts: one with local farmers market information and a pizza recipe from Dunwoody author Pattie Baker’s book “Food for My Daughters”; the other with a copy of the DeKalb County Wellness Policy, which recommends that school events include healthy food choices. We hope that this event helps foster support for ever more healthy food offerings at Chesnut Elementary functions.

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Chesnut Changers Thank…

…DeKalb County Board of Health and Georgia Organics for making this farm-to-school experience free of charge to 450 students plus school faculty.

…Farmers Dave Bentoski of D&A Farm and Nicolas Donck of Crystal Organic Farm for growing and harvesting organic strawberries, arugula and onions.

…Chesnut Garden Leader Carissa Malone for donating fresh herbs that the kids planted themselves through her school garden program.

…Jonathan and Sarah of S&J’s Woodfired Pizza for making healthy eating so delicious, and accommodating dietary restrictions.

…Chesnut Changers Teacher Sponsors Ms. Christen Ramo and Ms. Ginna Hobgood for their enthusiasm, time, and rapport with the children, which gets them involved and excited about local, healthy eating.

…Chesnut Charter Elementary Principal Dr. Richard Reid and Assistant Principal Veronica Williams for giving their full support to this new initiative.

Pattie Baker, local author and sustainable living proponent, for graciously allowing us to reprint her homemade pizza recipe.

…Coach Dykema and PTA Leaders for agreeing to implement healthier choices at the Field Day food station.

…Chesnut Charter Council Chair Melissa Marion-Landais for her immediate support and time helping the ecology club develop the grant application.

…Local reporters Tom Oder, Sue Stanton and Joe Earle for attending and/or covering our event (see our In the News page to read their articles).

Chesnut Wins $2,300 for Simulated Farmers Market and Chef Demo at Field Day!

Because all of the nation’s school districts that offer a federally funded school meal program are required by the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 to update their wellness policy, DeKalb County is currently revising its Wellness Policy and could become one of the first districts in Georgia to include Farm to School (F2S) language.

Wellness policies provide direction for nutrition education, food served to students and more. Writing F2S language into DeKalb’s wellness policy would mean your child would learn where food comes from, enjoy locally grown food on the lunchline and promote work in the school garden and farm tours. Members of Georgia Organics’ Farm to School team, the DeKalb County Board of Health, the DeKalb County School System and DeKalb County parents have met several times starting in 2010 to discuss incorporating F2S programs into school life.

Soon after attending their first of these meetings, Chesnut parents Elizabeth Davis and Angela Renals founded Chesnut’s ecology club. Fast-forward six months, and HOORAY, we’ve been awarded our first grant, which will support the current DeKalb Wellness Policy by offering healthy food at a school event. One of the goals of this program is to generate dialogue about the DeKalb County Wellness Policy, among parents, students and school staff; such that Chesnut offers healthy food/drink choices at school events and in our classrooms.

This year at Chesnut’s Field Day in May, Chesnut students and staff will have a healthy snack, and meet the farmer who grew it and the chef who baked it!

On Field Day, classes will rotate through the simulated farmers market, tasting pizzas baked onsite, topped with seasonal produce from a local farmer and Chesnut’s own vegetable garden. Once students have sampled the different pizzas, they will “shop” at the farmer’s stand, where the grant will allow each student to take home (free of charge) one serving of the featured produce in a reusable shopping bag, along with a pizza recipe, the DeKalb County Wellness Policy, and information about local farmers markets and pick-your-own farms. Chesnut Ecology Club students from all grade levels will help the farmer run the stand when their class visits, sharing with their classmates what they have learned about how the seasonal produce was grown, why it’s nutritious, and why eating locally matters.
Georgia Organics has awarded Chestnut Charter Elementary a 2012 Farm to School Grant in the amount of $2,300 to run a Simulated Farmers Market with Chef Demo on Field Day. This grant is funded by a contract with the DeKalb County Board of Health “Communities Putting Prevention to Work” Obesity Initiative which aims to create a healthier community by implementing evidence based intervention strategies to prevent obesity. Georgia Organics is also working closely with DeKalb County Schools Nutrition Department to support their existing Local Harvest of the Month program (see how Chesnut Changers have been promoting the Georgia-grown monthly food in our cafeteria).
If you’d like to be involved in Chesnut’s farm-to-school activities, and/or this event in particular, please email