Tag Archives: healthy schools

Harvest-to-Home Giveaway!

17 Dec

This week and last, I sent home large bags of fresh-grown lettuce and spinach from the Edible Garden to school families.*

We’ve done this sort of giveaway before, and I’ll tell you why:

1. We can find good homes for vegetables that might otherwise languish uneaten in the garden.

2. Families who receive something fresh from the garden become instant fans. The garden can always use fans.

3. Fresh, nutritious foods have become luxury goods that many families can’t afford.

Let’s talk about that troubling #3. I just finished reading a recent Newsweek cover story called “Divided We Eat.” The thrust of the article was that in modern America, “the richest Americans can afford to buy berries out of season out of season at Whole Foods, while the food insecure often eat what they can: highly caloric, mass-produced foods like pizza and packaged cakes that fill them up quickly.”

I don’t want to go all preachy on you, but it troubles me that people are eating in two different Americas. About 13% of N.C. households are food insecure. Roughly 60% of our school’s children are on Free & Reduced Lunch, an indicator of poverty.

So this is something small we can do: Share the bounty of our school’s garden with the people in our community. Bridge the “Dinner Divide” with a gift of salad or spinach.

And keep working as a community on a more sustainable solution.

* I don’t know the identities of the families receive the giveaway veggies. I package up the goods; our school’s administration makes the deliveries.

Confessions of a school gardener

23 Nov

I have a confession. Before I tell you my secret, though, recall with me for a moment all the work we’ve done around salads at the George Watts edible garden over the past couple of years.

First, we planted a Salad Garden. We held “Salad Days” in the garden, where kids plucked fresh lettuce leaves, made dressings and nibbled their creations. Then we did the same thing in classrooms, turning salads into an afternoon snack. We grew radish, carrot and tomato plants, brimming with the perfect salad toppers.

I’ve been pushing salads for so long that I’m worried teachers are annoyed with me. But I keep doing it anyway, because salads are easy. You don’t need ovens or pots to prepare a salad.

That’s why what I’m about to tell you is slightly embarrassing for me: My own daughters hate salad. Here’s a picture of my 5-year-old daughter tasting lettuce that her classroom harvested…

I’m telling you this for two reasons:

1. I want to make it clear that I’m just an ordinary parent trying to help my kids eat better. I don’t have all the answers. If I had all the answers, my daughter wouldn’t be wincing in this photo.

2. Though I don’t have all the answers, I deeply believe that one solution is installing “kitchen gardens” and cooking classes at every public school. Every time I volunteer with a classroom or in the garden, I witness this truth: Kids are way more likely to taste and enjoy vegetables when they grow and prepare the food themselves.

Doing it at school means you benefit from the tipping point of vegetable tasting: Once a leader-kid dares to try something, others fall in line. That’s not such a good thing when you’re talking about cigarettes, but when it comes to tasting a radish, I’m a fan of peer pressure.

Granted, not every kid likes the salad, broccoli or whatever it is a classroom is harvesting and tasting. But plenty of kids do, and some of them live with the sort of food insecurity that makes it impossible for them to eat fresh veggies at home. And I’ve seen plenty of “a-ha” moments, as kids realize — lo and behold — they actually do like a vegetable that they didn’t like when it was served on a cafeteria tray or poured out of a can. In fact, they like it better than they normally would, because a vegetable tastes better when you pull it out of the ground and eat it within minutes. If you’ve done this before, you know what I’m talking about.

For some time now, it has troubled me that this deeply held “truth” of mine didn’t apply to my own children. Until now. Last night, when my family was eating out, something changed.

My 8-year-old daughter ordered the salad bar!

If she ever wins the Nobel Prize, she’ll see a beaming smile on my face that’s only a hair bigger than the one I wore last night.

She tried to be nonchalant about her big move, but because I’ve been more or less obsessed with salad-eating for nearly two years now, I ruined the moment by practically lurching across the table and asking, “What made you want to order the salad?”

“Because we made them in class,” she said. “When we were picking the lettuce, I was kind of worried that I wouldn’t like it. But then when we ate the salad, I realized that I actually do like it.”

I hope you caught that: My own daughter, who has been oblivious to the salad revolution I’ve launched at home and at school, is now willing to eat lettuce, because she and her classmates harvested and made a salad themselves.

As it turns out, she only ate some of the restaurant salad, even though she tried building it a couple of different ways. I asked her what was wrong — thinking maybe she didn’t like the dressing.

She said, “It just doesn’t taste as good as the lettuce from our garden at school.”

On a semi-related note, carrots in the garden are ready for harvest. Students really love discovering what’s growing under all that soil.

Eating healthy in the classroom

4 Nov

This week I have a guest post by Lower Elementary teacher Lauren Vejvoda, who talks about one of the true gifts of an Edible Garden — food that kids can pick and eat:

Some of my students have been checking the lettuce in the Edible Garden daily to measure its progress. They’ve been really excited to see something growing that they know is edible.

Photos by Susie Post Rust

When it came time to pick lettuce, we talked about how to harvest the lettuce leaves. The kids commented that the outer leaves were kind of dirty, while the leaves in the center were very small. So they agreed we should harvest the middle leaves.

The students loved popping cherry tomatoes into their mouths, as we picked them in the garden. Even kids who hadn’t eaten tomatoes before gave them a try — though a few expressions changed to “I’m-not-so-sure-about-this” once they bit down.

Most of my class was very excited to eat the lettuce for a snack, and they were super-thrilled to try different dressings they’d brought in.

Not everyone was a fan, of course. One student mentioned, “You know I don’t eat any vegetables,” so that student didn’t share our snack. A small few students tried the lettuce but did not enjoy it.

All in all the salad snack was a success, though, because the students were honest about their feelings, because almost everyone gave the snack a try, and because all the ingredients for the snack came from the Edible Garden.

We will definitely prepare another snack from the garden and continue discovering how vegetables taste!

P.S. Ms. Vejvoda’s teaching assistant, Ms. Bullock, harvested some lettuce to take home. She found me later to rave about it. It was better tasting and stayed fresh longer than the “in bag” salad she’s bought in the past, plus, she says, she could eat every single bit of it — even the stems were tasty. Spread the word, Ms. Bullock!

Are you ready?

20 Oct

Only 11 more days until the cooking-eating-gardening-crafts-and-music extravaganza known as …

Expect hands-on cooking lessons for kids, mind-bendingly good (and healthful) tastings, pumpkins for painting, games, crafts and live music! Kids can crank an old-fashioned apple press by hand and see the apples turn into juice before their eyes! Teachers will take to the stage for a performance you don’t want to miss! And the kettle corn and caramel apples will be as good as any at the State Fair!

George Watts Montessori wouldn’t be having this event if it weren’t for the organizations and businesses listed at the bottom of the poster — it’s as simple as that. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation gave us a grant to help enhance our grounds and outdoor education. Whole Foods is kicking in cases of apples and pumpkins. Chef Marco Shaw of Piedmont is donating his time and talent. SEEDS is bringing their apple press (operated by DIG kids). Boxcarr is bringing a special menu of items for the day — just for us. And NCCU students are devoting classroom time to coming up with some fun and educational booths for kids, which they’ll also be staffing on the day of the event.

Say THANKS to all these wonderful folks, next time you see them!

Check out the size of that kid’s hippocampus

17 Sep

If we’ve learned anything lately about the relationship between fitness and academic performance, it’s this: There is a relationship.

Silver with her pre-kindergarten son

In a couple of recent studies by researchers at the University of Illinois, 9- and 10-year-old students were put on treadmills and then put into categories based on how fit they were. (Not my idea of fun.) Then students were given a series of cognitive challenges, or asked to perform tests that required using complex memory.

Both sets of researchers concluded that fitter kids had bigger brains — specifically, the hippocampus and basal ganglia regions. The new findings dovetail perfectly with past studies showing that aerobic exercise produces specific growth factors and proteins that stimulate the brain.

In parentalspeak, what they’re saying is that running can boost test scores. Maybe the best way to help kids learn more and perform better in school is to get them away from the Wii and playing hard in the schoolyard. (Read the full story on The New York Times.)

This morning I saw Silver, a mom at George Watts Montessori, with her son. Every morning, her pre-kindergartner does a lap around the new walking path before heading into class. “It’s intuitive,” she says, that this would help her son get his wiggles out and be ready for a day in school. Don’t you love this idea?

Natasha, a parent who happens to live across from the playground, says her sons bike or walk several laps around the path every morning before school. What started as a way for her family to have some personal space away from each other (“We’re not morning people,” she says) has become a morning fitness regimen. And her sons appear to relish their post-breakfast independence.

Path ready for prime time … almost

5 Aug

With the bulldozers running from dawn until dust, the playground walking trail is almost finished. Bikers and walkers are welcome to come take it for a spin.

This morning brought the arrival of a truckload of boulders, which will be used to slow down erosion on the grounds. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but every time it rains, the small rivers running through the playground carry off loads of healthy soil and mulch. That’s not good for our play areas and plant life, and it’s not good for the street drains, where all the stuff flows.

I’m guessing the students will like the boulders, as well, but not for their erosion-reduction properties.

Perfect for a stroll, right?


Or a bike ride. Just take it easy on the curves your first time around.


Boulders!


Thanks to landscape designer Katherine Gill, for all her work transforming the playground.

These paths were made for walking

30 Jul

If only you could look out my living room window and see what I’m seeing: The work crew is digging the new walking path for the George Watts playground as I write, and it’s all I can do not to run outside and trot around on all those new rocks. They’ve got backhoes and everything.

Here’s what’s happening today:

Also, I want you to meet Jonah Roberts of Tributary, who’s doing the work. Check out what he says about the project (and try to ignore the sweet, babbling 5 yr old beside me):

Here’s what things looked like as of Thursday. I’ll post more images as the transformation continues…

Raking out the gravel


... and dumping more gravel.