Monday, April 28, 2014

Beets Galore: The Full Circle of Farm to School

I have finally discovered it: the essence of being the FoodCorps service member at Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center (MMFEC) in Ronan, Montana. MMFEC is pretty unique among FoodCorps sites: we’re a fully inspected and certified community-based food processing center. In terms of both geography and relationships, we’re positioned between the Western Montana Growers Cooperative (WMGC) and some of the biggest and most committed K-12 buyers of local food in Montana. Not only do we have the equipment to process fresh fruits and vegetables, we have staff who are knowledgeable and experienced in food safety and product development.

This placement means that I am well situated to carry out FoodCorps’ mission of connecting kids to real food. This February, I did just that: I guided a healthy, local product from the farm into classrooms on a large scale.

It all started with a perfect storm of beets: growers had an abundance of them and they are FoodCorps members’ favorite Valentine’s Day vegetable. Over the winter, I leveraged our processing staff’s expertise to develop new beet products—different cuts, frozen raw cubes, and roasted cubes. For the more complicated products, we had to go through the somewhat arduous process of developing a Method of Production and HACCP (Hazard Analysis at Critical Control Points) food safety procedure.

In early February, I rallied orders for beets from schools in WMGC’s distribution area. FoodCorps members in other school districts bought boxes to use in the classroom or cafeteria. Kalispell and Polson bought roasted beet cubes to serve as a cooked Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) snack. Enthusiastic school food service staff make it possible for local growers to sell to schools: Jenny Montague, the Food Service Director in Kalispell trusts and buys most products WMGC offers, and JB Capdeville, the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Coordinator in Polson is bold with the new products she brings into her FFVP snacks. With eight willing buyers for orders of all sizes, WMGC dropped off 775 pounds of local beets, MMFEC processed them, and WMGC distributed to the schools.

Many times, my involvement with helping schools procure local product has ended here: in the school kitchen. This time, though, I took a couple more steps to bring students a deeper experience with the local food in their classrooms. Working with champion teachers in each grade at Linderman Elementary in Polson, I scheduled beet lessons with eleven classes. A local farmer—Nicole Jarvis of Ploughshare Farm—visited each class with me. Her four year-old daughter passed around beet seeds for students to examine as we discussed how beets grow. Nicole even led the fourth graders in some beet math, asking them to calculate how much space on her farm it took to grow the beets for their class—and their school!

Beets were a (potentially scary) new vegetable for most of the students, so we first made sure everyone understood the “don’t yuck my yum” principle and then promised a fun sticker to whoever tried at least two bites of beets. Every student raised his or her hand, holding a beet cube high into the air, and cha-cha-cha-ed, “we love remolacha!” (that’s “beet” in Spanish) then bit into the roasted purple vegetable. Pretty much everyone joined the Two Bite Club that day, and there were many rave reviews.

The farmer grew the beets. The farmer came to the classroom to eat the beets she grew with students. And I got to orchestrate all the steps in between. This is what it means to be a FoodCorps member at MMFEC: facilitating the full circle of farm to school.

This article was written by Nicki Jimenez, the talented FoodCorps member serving in Ronan and Polson with the Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Singing Silly Songs

In past posts, my fellow FoodCorps service members have mentioned getting a little silly while teaching in the classroom, garden or cafeteria in order to get students excited about fruits and veggies. I must admit, I’ve followed their lead.  It might be the goofy camp counselor in me, but I LOVE to sing. I love to sing songs with hand motions, repeat after-me, clapping, etc. Most importantly, I love to get my students singing, especially when it’s about food.  

In my own educational experience, I know I have learned much that I cannot recall. However there are a few things I will never forget, including:  the quadratic formula, ALL of the prepositions, what a palindrome is, and the French alphabet.  A seemingly random assortment, but I learned each of those concepts in song. How often do we find ourselves humming a popular radio tune from 2005, yet we can’t quite recall the name of that book from English class in that same year?   Songs stick.

          Teaching nutrition and garden lessons in an after-school program doesn’t always lend itself to detailed projects or worksheets. Students have been sitting and learning all day, and like anyone else, they want to move! They do not want to listen to a lecture on plant parts. 

          Quite frankly, neither would I.

          So at the Lockwood Boys and Girls Club, we sing. A lot. Our students are smart, but their attention span is shorter than normal after a full day of school. Singing is quick and easy, and as far as I can tell, a great way to learn.

 Just the other day I started with a new group of students for our weekly after school cooking club. We usually make easy to prepare foods that students can replicate at home, like smoothies or homage ranch dressing, but on this particular day we were preparing a sweet potato chili to serve at the Boys and Girls Club annual chili cook off! One of the club members is also in a 3rd grade class that I see regularly in the Lockwood Elementary School, where the Boys and Girls Club is located. I teach in both locations to reach a wider range of students, and those I see in both locations are great helpers when it comes to teaching other club members, since we sing songs in the classroom as well. As I presented the ingredients for the chili we would be making, she pointed at the carrots.

“I LOVE carrots!!” she exclaimed. “Remember when we tried them and sang that song?” She was referring to the Plant Parts Song that I had taught her class in conjunction with a plants part salad we prepared.

          I decided to test her a bit and asked, “Of course! Do you remember what plant part the carrots were?” I watched her do the hand motions while she mentally ran through the Plant Parts Song in her head. I could almost hear her thoughts, “Roots…Stems…Leaves…Flowers…Fruits…Seeds…”

“ROOTS!” she cried.

I smiled. Mission accomplished.

This blog post was written by Maggie Harkins, the FoodCorps service member in Billings, MT where she is making cooking healthy foods fun for the kids at the Boys and Girls Club.