Thursday, April 18, 2013

Smoothie-licious Lessons

Nicki Jimenez is a FoodCorps Service Member in Ronan.

Teachers have affected my life tremendously and I feel so lucky to have the opportunity to influence young people in some way with my service this year. While I have always been grateful for my teachers, leading lessons in classrooms this year has made me appreciate what they do so much more, especially lesson-planning. I work with some incredibly committed teachers who prepare interesting lessons and schedule guest specialists to come in to their classrooms. Still, I have luxuries—freedom from a full-time class and a budget provided by a seed grant from the National Center for Appropriate Technology, FoodCorps Montana’s Host Site—that allow me to go wild with lesson planning.

At national FoodCorps training in August, we learned that FoodCorps doesn’t have a curriculum because a central value of FoodCorps service is that it is locally adapted. That’s why we’re placed with local organizations already doing farm to school in the community. And that’s why FoodCorps Service Members work with teachers to create lessons and curricula that meet the needs of their students and schools. This is especially important for food and nutrition education because what’s grown or raised in one region is different from another. There are plenty of food and nutrition curricula out there and lesson-planning as a FoodCorps Service member has involved drawing on those to piece together lessons that are appropriate for my students and for Western Montana.

The class gathers around to discuss the results of the
Go Slow Whoa Fruit and Veggie Challenge.
One curriculum I’ve developed is an eight-week nutrition series for third graders at K. William Harvey Elementary School in Ronan. These students already knew some basics of nutrition: in the fall they experienced the SNAP-Ed program out of the Flathead Reservation Extension Office. Our goal was to reaffirm and build off that knowledge while incorporating physical activity and healthy snacks. We started off with a couple introductory classes. In a lesson about energy balance I taught about how calories give your body energy and to stay healthy you should balance energy in from food and energy out from physical activity. We calculated how many calories were in a carrot and cucumber and then did as many jumping jacks as the energy from the snack provided! In the second lesson, we reviewed MyPlate by giving each kid a food group and having them make a MyPlate out of people from memory.

Then we moved into new material: Go Slow Whoa. Go Slow Whoa is a method developed by CATCH (Coordinated Approach to Child Health) to help kids learn how to make healthy decisions. I taught about how we should eat more Go (anytime) foods than Slow (sometimes) foods and more Slow foods than Whoa (seldom) foods. We played a “red light green light” game with different motions for Go, Slow, and Whoa foods to start getting the hang of it. Then we got down to business, learning about Go Slow Whoa for each food group. It’s fun to come up with creative ways to make each lesson engaging and fun with hands-on activities and snacks featuring local foods when possible.
The blue/purple group is hard at work brainstorming
fruits & veggies while classmates ponder the other
colors of the rainbow.

In the dairy lesson, we identified and practiced activities that keep our bones healthy, then ate homemade ricotta cheese made with local Kalispell Kreamery milk. In the first fruit & veggie lesson, we did the Go Slow Whoa Fruit and Veggie Challenge where the students each received a food item and had to categorize it. In our second lesson, students worked in groups to brainstorm fruits and veggies for each color, then presented their ideas to the class as we talked about eating a rainbow! We made smoothies to go with each fruit and veggie lesson—Go Strananarrot (strawberry, banana, carrot) and Rainbow (with seven fruits & veggies including spinach). Next we’ll learn about grains and taste Montana-grown Kamut and finally we’ll learn about proteins and make a Montana lentil hummus.

Students measure strawberries, orange juice and yogurt into
the Vitamix while others look on, anxious to try the
rainbow smoothie!

I’ve seen some encouraging signs that these lessons are memorable for the kids in my class. I met a parent who said “oh so you’re the Miss Nicki my son’s been talking about.” One of my students volunteered to collect the recipe instructions during clean up just so she could write them all down for herself. She didn’t have to worry, though because at the end of the nutrition series, we’ll send the kids home with a recipe book. It’s my hope that by making food and nutrition fun—maybe even a highlight of their school day—these kids will begin to develop healthy habits to carry long into the future. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Life After FoodCorps

Ennis School Staff
As spring marches forward the question comes with increasing frequency: “So, Natasha… what’s next?” This may sound preemptive to address in April, five months before the FoodCorps end of service in August. The end of my time in Ennis may be a long way off, but it already seems to be in the thoughts of the community members I work with, and it is something that has been on my mind since the day I started my service.

The way I see it, this is actually a two-part question. Wrapped up in that expectant “What’s next” is concern for the community projects I’ve helped to set into motion, as well as curiosity about how I plan to take two years of FoodCorps service and turn it into a career. I’m happy to report positive prospects on both accounts.

Ennis School Garden
The school garden and other farm to school projects that I’ve been working on will continue to grow and change after I leave. The school garden is literally rooted in the schoolyard. It would take at least as much work to go backwards (imagine ripping out 4’’x4’’ fence posts, 10 raised beds, a pergola and garden gates) as it will to go forwards. Through committee work and volunteer recruitment, the school garden has been endowed with a small army of dedicated curators. The classroom teachers we’ve worked with now plan projects and lessons around what’s happening in the garden. Volunteers are eager to help with duties of summer weeding and watering, if only for a chance to harvest spoils from the garden. And students positively shriek when they see that purple FoodCorps t-shirt headed down the hallways: a sure sign that they’ll be headed out to the garden for class.

The garden isn’t going anywhere, but I am, and I believe that my FoodCorps service experience will help get me there. Until I started rooting around for potential jobs, I wasn’t sure what I’d be qualified to do after two terms of service in rural Montana. Reading through job descriptions, picking up the phone to do some informational interviews, and rewriting my resume has helped me find some confidence and clarification. What I’ve realized through this process is that “FoodCorps service member” is just an abbreviation for project manager, volunteer coordinator, director of outreach and communications, graphic arts guru, special events planner and more. My service experience has paved the way for a path into the nonprofit sector, classroom or outdoor education, nutrition and public health, food service, and, of course, agriculture.

“So… what’s next?” At the end of two years, I’m confident that the Ennis community will move steadily forward with Farm to School projects. And I will take away a medley of experiences that will be relevant to whatever is next for me. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

Butter Making in Billings

Madyson Versteeg is a service member in Billings. 

The first day of spring—the Vernal Equinox—inevitably brings with it a sense of renewal and hope for growth. 

Since January, we have been sifting through seed catalogs, drawing out garden plans, and planning garden work days for the coming spring. Toscano Kale, King Richard Leeks, and Bull’s Blood Beets have become common vocabulary. We shared pictures of fruits and vegetables fresh from Johnny’s seed catalog and identified seeds straight from their packets.

We’re ready for spring but first planting is still weeks away. So, I spent the last few days waiting by making bread and butter! 

As we not-so-patiently waited for that first spring day, we got some jitters out by shaking things up; shaking cream up, specifically, to make butter.  Late winter seemed like the perfect time to get some last minute cooking in before getting back out in the garden. 

The kids excitedly asked what we were going to do in class that day, “are we going to plant seeds?”  “Can we plant some cucumbers?” 

Faces fell when we told them not yet and to be patient for the natural change of seasons.  However, they immediately perked back up when we told them we would be making bread and butter instead!
 “From scratch?” one boy asked, “we can make butter?”  Yes and yes.  And we did. 

How to make butter:

  Fill a glass jar with a lid up half way with heavy cream. 
  Add salt if you’d like. 
  Twist lid on tightly. 
  Shake vigorously until cream becomes solid—butter! 

The kids paired up and took turns shake-shake-shaking their butter jars, dancing out the last of their winter impatience. 

The bread was also a hit. It’s a no knead version requiring relatively little time and it’s very tasty.  We explained the significance of yeast, how it’s alive and helps to create tiny pockets of air within the dough, making the bread rise and fluffy in texture. To our surprise, the ten little bakers were really concerned about the little grains of yeast, peering at them closely, wondering if they died in the oven, and collecting spilled yeast off of the table to take home and rescue.  They only succumbed to putting the yeast in the bread for its inevitable death by oven when they were assured that the yeast could not feel pain. What a relief!

The bread we pulled out of the oven was light and fluffy, and when cut up, was devoured ravenously with the handmade butter. All reminisces of the dead yeast quickly forgotten. 

This last day of cooking was the perfect preface for all of the planting and gardening that is to come.  It is just the beginning of getting our hands dirty with food though. Soon those hands will be kneading soil and spring itself will rise with the help of all the little life that help things grow.