Transplanted from the Red River Valley in Grand Forks, ND to the sandy mountainous landscape of Boulder, MT, I feel like a healthy seedling, brought out from the grow lights into the wondrous world of the outdoor garden. To say the least, this seems to have been a fairly smooth life transition for me. The sun is abundant, the mornings crisp and cool, the mountains a playground of hiking and exploring, and the people a wealth of knowledge of the land and community. I already feel tempted to linger in Montana long after my year-long service term with FoodCorps.
My view during a crisp September morning run.
I have been in Boulder, MT for only one month, but what a crazy month it has been! Most of my service thus far has been focused on procurement and working closely with the food service manager at Boulder Elementary School to incorporate more local products into the menus. This week, for example, we served fresh tomatoes, onions, and apples from the garden, as well as local tortillas, buns, and lentils for lunch!
Fresh tomatoes from the elementary school greenhouse and youth garden pack a colorful and vitamin-rich punch when served with salad during lunch!
Boulder Youth Garden.
One of my current projects is taking the lead on implementing the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) at Boulder Elementary. This is a USDA funded program that provides free fresh fruit or vegetables at least twice a week to elementary school students. As our district is 78% free or reduced lunches, this is an excellent opportunity to both feed hungry children a myriad healthy fruits and vegetables and provide some much needed nutrition education. As a registered dietitian, I am thrilled to bring fresh fruit and vegetables to the kids and generate excitement around eating a rainbow of yummy produce. I often get stopped in the hallways by enthusiastic students,
“Miss Camille! Miss Camille! What will our snack be tomorrow?”
“I LOVED the kiwi (or carrots, apples, peppers…)! Can we have that again?”
The best part of my service, however, is being able to actually go into the K-6 classrooms and jump around like a crazy lady exclaiming how awesome fruits and vegetables are, and then see students not only eat but usually ENJOY the fruit and vegetables! Surprisingly, there were children, even 6th graders, who had never tried a sweet pepper, kiwi, or a carrot without ranch dip!
Before serving carrots, I had been warned by several school staff members that kids probably wouldn’t eat carrots without ranch dip. So, I came armed with a funny video “I am Colby Carrot” and some great ideas for how to encourage ranch dip lovers to try a lovely orange carrot on its own. (Click here to watch the awesome music video.) Unsurprisingly, during my first classroom visit, I was asked that fated question, "Where’s the ranch?!” Before I even had a chance to respond, I was thrilled to hear a barrage of commentary from fellow students such as: “You don’t need ranch! Carrots are delicious on their own!”
Part of what I want students to glean from the FFVP is to experience the true taste of fresh fruits and vegetables. Of course it is fine to have a little ranch every now and then and incorporating vegetables into mixed dishes is a wonderful idea, but my current goal is to introduce produce in its most natural form. Even if the students do not like the vegetable or fruit snack of the day, at least they tried something new.
Along with the FFVP, I am looking forward to taking my first few classes out into the greenhouse within the next couple of weeks to do some fall planting of Swiss chard and spinach which they will eat in snacks throughout the winter. And Farm-to-School Month is just around the corner in October! In Boulder, we are planning a Montana-made baked potato bar with potatoes grown in our youth garden! Be sure to learn more about what is going on this year in your own community or if you would like to get involved by visiting www.farmtoschoolmonth.org.