Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Classroom Ceremony for Food

“All hail kale!” we cheered with our forks raised before chomping down on bites of kale salad. It was my second class of the day with the fifth graders at Ronan Middle School, who had just finished making three variations of Massaged Kale Salad: Basic, Greek, and Spice it Up. After the salads were ready, the students cleaned up, and then patiently waited while we reviewed the “Don’t Yuck My Yum” Rule, served up our samples, and collectively decided on a cheer. Following the enthusiastic cheer, every 5th grader tried his or her salad—then most of them excitedly sampled the other groups’ concoctions. Such eager tasting by so many 5th graders is a huge success!

To be honest, my first class on the same day had gone a little differently, and it taught me an important lesson. That class had been pretty chaotic and pressed for time; each group had prepared a kale salad and then hastily tasted it on their own. There was no ritual in serving the samples or choosing a cheer and we didn’t get to review “Don’t Yuck My Yum” as a group. Several students who had just spent the entire class preparing the salad didn’t want even want to try it! They staunchly refused. I was surprised by their indifference to their homemade snack—until my experience with the second class.

What I learned in comparing the different reactions of the students from the first to the second class is that when we build in time for ceremony around our food, it makes all the difference. 

In many a FoodCorps training, I have learned that creating a positive tasting environment –especially by developing a simple ritual or ceremony around food—is a crucial strategy for encouraging kids to try new foods. While I had heard of “Don’t Yuck My Yum” before, I recently learned specific techniques from other FoodCorps service members that helped me to establish a method for leading taste tests in the classroom. Taking time to set “Don’t Yuck My Yum” (be polite so everyone can enjoy the food) and the “No Thank You Bite” (everyone tries before they decline the food) as class norms is essential. My real new favorite trick, though, is the “Cheers!” The group cheer transforms what used to be an awkward “Okay let’s eat!” to an anticipated and celebratory act we all partake in together. 

Conducting tasting activities in the classroom with these strategies has not only been fun—it has been incredibly effective. On a beautiful day at the end of October I had 80 second graders outside “growing” butternut squash vines with their arms and spinning in circles to act out Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center’s prized squash peeler (see this Valley Journal article for photos and more). Then the teachers and I encouraged the kids to pretend they were haughty kings and queens who politely said “I don’t much care for that” in order to not yuck each other’s yum. After the activity, one of the teachers told me, “Your lesson and positive attitude really made a difference in how [the kids] enjoyed the squash!” And the teacher was right: the classes that had a fun, engaging experience with the squash ended up with WAY fewer leftovers than the other grades that hadn’t danced the squash from the field to their fork. 

Lesson learned: Kids will taste and—more often than not—like healthy foods if they’re just given a positive opportunity to try them.

Written by Nicki Jimenez, service member in Ronan, MT

Massaged Kale Salad
From Lola Bloom of City Blossoms
Main Ingredient: KALE! 
Start with a FAT – avocado, olive oil, vegetable oil, peanut butter, tahini, sunflower seed butter, almond butter,
An ACID – citrus juice (lemon, lime, etc.), vinegar (red wine, balsamic, rice wine, apple cider, etc), 
and SALT – miso and soy sauce are also great salt substitutes

RATIO = 3 cups Kale : 2-3 tablespoons FAT : 2-3 tablespoons ACID : SALT to taste

Basic Kale Salad
Kale + Olive Oil + Lemon + Salt, then add shredded carrots and some sunflower seeds

Spice it up Kale Salad
Kale + Olive Oil (or Avocado) + Lime + Salt, massage in some sprinkled chili powder. For more pizzazz add some hot sauce

Greek Style Kale Salad
Kale + Olive Oil + Lemon/Red Wine Vinegar blend + Salt + add oregano to the massage. Add crumbled feta cheese

Monday, November 18, 2013

Kohlrabi: A Plant with Personality

I don't think I will ever live down the kohlrabi lesson. With just over two months into my FoodCorps service year in Red Lodge, I still get the most comments about kohlrabi, which is perhaps the silliest vegetable there is.

 Last week I decided to stop in to one of my third grade class' Halloween parties to say hi and show off my decidedly silly costume: a Brussels sprouts stalk.

I talked to the kids, bounced around a bit in my brussels balloons, and eventually ended up talking to a student’s mom that had come in for the party. She wanted to tell me that her daughter has been raving about the garden class, telling her all about the new vegetables she has tried. "What was that one...? Kohl...something-or-other. She loved that one." 

Kohlrabi. Of course.

 The second lesson I taught each of my classes was an introduction to 'the chubby little alien' that is kohlrabi. Upon arriving in Red Lodge in late August I inherited a wonderful garden planted by the previous FoodCorps service member, Alyssa Charney, and the elementary school classes. At the time, the youth garden was flush with kohlrabi. I harvested the bounty of kohlrabi to bring into my classes, taking in a full plant along with some cut up samples for the kids to taste. I also drew up a coloring sheet to hand out to the students. The lesson introduced the vegetable, gave a quick rendition of the ever popular 'plant parts dance,' and then we tasted salted kohlrabi sticks together. Then the students got to work on decorating their kohlrabi drawing. Over the past two months I've learned a lot about the power of personality when promoting new veggies. That afternoon I made sure to give the kohlrabi a personality when I introduced it to the classes. I had my students give their kohlrabi unique personalities, too. I encouraged them to get wild with their drawings, color outside the lines, add arms, legs, give the vegetable a little attitude. They loved it. Their drawings, as you can see, are totally creative. At the end of the class, I even had a kid offer to buy the other kohlrabi from me. I was surprised when a month or so after this initial lesson, while playing a round of vegetable charades, that all the kids kept guessing kohlrabi. Every time. It must have really stuck.

 I like to bring a healthy dose of silliness to my classes. If I talk about this strange looking plant like it's my friend, then maybe the kids will want to be friends with it too. I believe in silliness.. I like to draw silly vegetables with my students, play games, and even dress up like a vegetable every once in a while. Kids shouldn't feel intimidated by trying new things. If I have to be the first one to get goofy, then I am more than happy to do so.

Written by Emily Howe, FoodCorps service member in Red Lodge, MT.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

October 24th: First Annual Montana Crunch Time Event!

written by Service Member Erin Jackson, Bozeman

If you happened to be near Hyalite Elementary School in Bozeman, MT on Thursday, October 24th at exactly 2:00 p.m., I wouldn’t be surprised if you heard a loud “crunch” coming from the playground. It was the sound of more than 500 students and teachers biting into a locally grown apple to celebrate Montana “Crunch Time.” A first-time event, Montana Crunch Time is a celebration of Farm to School Month, National Food Day, healthy eating, and Montana agriculture. Communities all across Montana participated in the “crunch,” which was sponsored by the Office of Public Instruction, Montana Team Nutrition, Eat Right Montana, the National Farm to School Network, and the Farm to Cafeteria Network, a program of the National Center for Appropriate Technology.

I am proud to say that students from all 11 Bozeman School District schools participated in the event. Picture 4,274 students crunching into apples simultaneously! And these weren’t just any apples. Sherri Pearson, Assistant Food Service Manager for the Bozeman School District, and I worked together to order 918 lbs of spray-free apples from Blue Water Orchards in Fromberg, MT. These apples were as fresh as you can get -- picked a couple days earlier and delivered directly to the Bozeman schools from under 150 miles away.

Student reactions serve as a testimony to the deliciousness of these Montana-grown apples. At Meadowlark Elementary School, one student remarked: "WOW! This apple is from Montana? COOL!!" A student from Chief Joseph Middle School shared with his music teacher that it was the best day ever in orchestra because they got to play fun music and then eat a delicious apple. At Hyalite Elementary, many students told me that it was the most delicious apple they had ever eaten. And when we wrapped up the celebration by composting our apple cores, there was barely anything leftover to compost!

During the Hyalite Elementary all-school assembly, I stimulated minds with an apple trivia game and roused spirits by leading a Crunch Time cheer (dressed up in an apple costume generously loaned by MT Team Nutrition). If you closed your eyes during the cheer, you could have been at any sports game or rally with the energy in the air. But after the count down, right at 2:00 pm, there were no voices, only the sound of just over 500 students and teachers crunching into apples in perfect unison. I attached a video so that you can share the experience.

Several teachers expanded on the learning opportunity afforded by Montana Crunch Time. One made applesauce with her students. Another led an apple-eating reflection to introduce students to sensory writing. Many schools made P.A. announcements that celebrated healthy eating and recounted the history of apples in Montana.

In our globalized food system, it is easy to be in the dark about where our food actually comes from. Although a small effort, Montana Crunch Time is one more step towards informing our Montana youth about the importance of eating fresh and locally grown food while supporting our Montana farmers. Hope to see you next year for our second annual Montana Crunch Time!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Montana “Crunch Time” in the Capitol

Montana students participating in Crunch Time on October 24, 2013.

As the clock struck two on October 24, a collective crunch brought the state of Montana together to celebrate Food Day and National Farm to School Month. Biting into crisp Montana-grown apples, school kids across the state got yet another opportunity to taste healthy food grown close to home thanks to “Crunch Time.”  The statewide event was the vision of many amazing organizations including the Montana Office of Public Instruction, Montana Team Nutrition, Eat Right Montana, and two of NCAT's Montana food programs – Farm to Cafeteria Network and FoodCorps Montana.

Out of sheer luck, during "Crunch Time," I had the privilege to actually be in Montana’s historic capitol building in Helena presenting to the governor-appointed Montana Commission on Community Service. Created in 1993 to promote and expand national service and volunteer opportunities in Montana, the Governor's Office of Community Service has been a key partner in the success of FoodCorps Montana. And the commissioners were more than happy for yet another opportunity to support good, local food for school kids across the state. We paused the agenda and passed out apples. As we counted down for our moment, I thought of how lucky we are to have so many leaders working together for a healthier future for Montana children. Our simultaneous “crrrunch” resonated high into the ceilings of the state capitol.

By Kirsten Gerbatsch, FoodCorps Montana Fellow