Local Foods: Slowing Down and School Lunch

Hey, here’s a fun listen: Test Kitchen Radio shares a story about school lunch and the impact of local foods in what children eat! The best part: the program interviews one of the coordinators of the Farm to School program at the Dorset School here in Vermont. Check out the program here (start around minute 14:00).

What I like about this story is Continue reading

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Endive Gone Bananas Over You…

If anyone out there is compiling a list of the top ten best pun-laden gardening songs, this video should top the list. Songwriter Michael McConkey runs a really SWEET fruit nursery in Afton, VA, called Edible Landscaping. Listen carefully to catch these fun and quirky lyrics… I know they leave me artichoked-up in my heart...!

NOTE: The beginning of the video is some information about the business; skip to minute 3:00 if you just want to get to the puns

I had posted before about media that models healthy behaviors – such as promoting vegetable consumption – and I don’t think Michael’s song was as consciously designed to influence children’s (or adults’) behaviors, but I have watched this video so many times trying to get down all of the great puns that I wonder if it might make me crave some certain fruits and veggies. Endive anyone?

Share your favorite pun here!

Signs, Signs, Everywhere There’s Signs

Burlington has no beef with pink slime, but are the kids aware? (Read this if you’re out of the loop on the debate about pink slime in school lunch beef)

Dansk: Hakket oksekød English: Ground beef

As the local food movement continues to gain momentum across the country, people are ever more interested in knowing where their food comes from… but local food isn’t always promoted clearly. While 42% of Middlebury College students mistakenly thought the majority of meat served in their dining program was locally sourced (less than 1% actually is), while I bet many students in the Burlington School District have no idea that their lunch program now purchases thousands of pounds of local beef each year. Wow! How do we get the word out?

This hot topic of ground beef quality and pink slime sounds like a bit of a tangent to kids’ gardening programs, but here’s what they all have in common: these programs are all looking (and sometimes lacking)the clear communication to explain their successful efforts. Can some simple, homemade signs help?

During a recent meeting at Friends of Burlington Gardens, the conversation jumped rapidly between planning several summer programs and activities, but the discussion seemed to cycle around this chorus: We need to make good signs for that.

The song went something like this:

  • Want to make children learning to speak English more comfortable in the garden? Let’s make some signs in the gardens for various plants that are written in different languages.
  • Want to make students more aware of the greenhouse activities at their high school and encourage them to join? How about we put up signs around campus to say what we’re doing? Let’s have some artsy students come up with a sign and maybe a motto we can display outside the greenhouse.
  • Want to show the community the flourishing school garden in its prime? We should get lots of good signage…I wonder who has nice handwriting?

A wealth of signs piled in the closet at FBG

Signs are essential for communicating what’s happening in the land of garden education – they can decorate the garden site and give kids a way to contribute – but they also can be a marketing tool used to recruit students and showcase successes for the community. While the cardboard signs handwritten in marker and those hand-painted wooden signs might be kind of old-school, I think they’re an appropriate way to deliver these messages. Tweeting to the world or putting up a Facebook page about the garden might happen too, but simple signage is intimate and personalized for the immediate community. What are the ways that members of your local food system get the message out about the good work they’re doing? Are handmade signs part of their marketing toolkit?

FN 4/2

Look Kids…Vegetables are Cool! Just Give ‘Em a Try!

As the rates of childhood obesity in the U.S. rise, nutrition and public health experts continue to advocate that children increase their fruit and vegetable consumption in place of those calorie-dense junk foods. Garden programs, as well as other programs targeted at kids, often have this same goal, but the hardest step may be getting over that first hump: getting a child to just at least TRY a taste of the new food.

veggies

veggies (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Indeed, researchers have shown that children are more likely to eat a food if they are repeatedly exposed to it through repeated taste tests. So, while we grow lots of spinach and kale and carrots in the garden, how do we get kids to try that first bite?

One way we can do this is by modeling the behavior. Social Learning Theory, a theory frequently adopted in school interventions that promote fruit and veggie consumption, is based on the idea that we learn behaviors by watching how others act in situations. (A great read on this theory in this book.) So, for instance, if I see someone eating a bowl of brussel sprouts on a few occasions, I will absorb this information and imagine myself eating brussel sprouts. What’s more, if I see someone eating brussel sprouts AND enjoying eating those sprouts, I am more inclined to imagine and believe that I too will enjoy eating brussel sprouts, if I’m ever in a similar situation where I’m offered that food.

So, how can we effectively model eating vegetables? I found an excellent example on Youtube! In Eric Herman‘s music video, he shows that even those who are hesitant to eat vegetables might learn to love them once they try them. The video starts with Eric skeptically taking a bite out of a carrot, surprised to find he enjoys it. He repeats this with a green bean “cause my mother said I should [eat green beans],” and then a beet, showing that not only will someone like carrots once they try the food, but that trying carrots may lead to trying other vegetables which that person will also turn out to like.

The more Eric tries of different vegetables, the more “crazy over vegetables” he becomes, and this extreme appetite for vegetables is portrayed as adventuresome, goofy, and absolutely fun. At the same time, the character is portrayed as a cool dude himself after eating his vegetables – rocking out on his guitar while coasting in a grocery cart – which suggests others might also become super-hip as a result of trying vegetables.

Does the music video actually work?? The real test would be to check in with the young children who watch this video and see if it results in any changes in behavior. In comparison to many of the corny (yes, pun intended) videos out there that encourage kids to eat fruits and vegetables, this rock video is much more modern. I want to be like Eric after watching this video because he is so entertaining. So, if Social Learning Theory really works, I think this is the kind of video that would actually catch kids’ attention and deliver an effective message. Anyone have vegetable-phobic kids at home who could test the video?

WP 3/23

Garden Hygiene?

English: A picture of compost soil

Image via Wikipedia

We want kids to optimize their health by eating fresh produce from the garden, but should we be concerned about microscopic germs creeping in the soil?

During my most recent visit with the Friends of Burlington Gardens, the director met with Phil*, a representative from a well-known and respected nonprofit. Phil is in the process of planning a fundraising event where as many as three-thousand people would be asked to each plant an individual flower or vegetable seed in their provided container. For this big event, Phil plans to collect donations of seeds and soil and provide a unique growing container. With the supplies mostly lined up, he visited Friends of Burlington Gardens to ask for help with the logistics of actually getting three-thousand people to sow their seeds in their containers. Similar to a previous seed-starting event I posted about earlier, Phil is looking for help to direct children and adults on how to plant their seeds at soil stations set up at the event.

One of Phil’s logistical concerns was sanitation. How would three-thousand people wash their hands after getting muddied up from the soil? Besides a little dirt under the fingernails, Phil commented that his co-workers – less comfortable with gardening and getting down in the dirt – had been concerned about how hygienic or sanitary this might be and wondered how they might be able to set up hand-washing stations in the park where the event was to be held.

Dirty soil. I had not thought much about this before. It is true that soil is loaded with microbes – some more friendly than others – so how concerned should this event be with providing water and soap to the participants after they plant the seed starters?

Phil added that he was less concerned about the sanitation issue himself, so really he was bringing this up more on the behalf of his co-workers, but the Friends of Burlington Gardens director supported his idea. Hand washing stations make sense for such a large crowd. Plus, they could be used to rinse out the planting containers as well.

I agree with Phil and the director that hand washing stations would be appreciated simply because this will be such a large event. But it got me thinking about the response Phil’s co-workers had to gardening and the less obvious matter they may have been expressing… In the grand scheme of things, how concerned should we be about children’s health and sanitation when playing in the dirt?

If you ask me, a little dirt won’t hurt. Some exposure to germs is important for building up that natural immunity. But should I be sympathetic to those who are more germophobic? Certainly, there are cases where the soil might be poorer quality and truly unsafe for growing food. (TLC Home shares some tips on remedying polluted soil in these scenarios.) Not all soil is the same…

So for those who might be less comfortable with a little dirt under the fingernails, are there ways we should try to make the gardening experience more hygienic and ‘clean’? Or do you think getting dirty and grubby is a necessary rite of passage for the gardener? I would love your thoughts on this, as well as suggestions for a more hygienic dirtiness!

*name changed

FN 3/12

Edible Vegetable Art

Carrot wheels, apple slices, kale leaves, chunks of hot pink watermelon radishes, deep purple beets…

These were just some of the art supplies available to children who attended a workshop on edible art last weekend. Given this beautiful array of produce, the children developed VERY creative sculptures such as sailboats with kale leaves, porcupines, and even an outhouse!

As much as I was surprised by the creativity of the kids, I was even more surprised by their knowledge of fruits and vegetables. How many kids can identify a watermelon radish and yellow beets? For that matter, how many adults can identify these veggies? I have to admit that I would have guessed the mysterious pink vegetable was some rare cross between a turnip and a beet, but many of the kids were quick to recognize the watermelon radish.

Now, to be fair, many of our participants were the children of garden enthusiasts and organic farmers. The workshop’s coordinator, who has led similar activities with other, predominantly urban kids, was also surprised by how many could identify these uncommon veggies.

Maybe this was not the most typical group of kids after all. During one of the workshop sessions, I had fun collaborating with a few of the kids to build a rainforest of broccoli, complete with a tropical bird made from beets and raisins. The children were hungry and snacked on apples, carrots, and celery, and one of the boys announced that he wanted to eat his rainforest broccoli for lunch, but that he would wait until the end of the day so he and his partner could first showcase their artwork for others to see.

Since when do kids need to refrain from eating their fruits and vegetables?

According to a 2006 study on fruit and vegetable intake, less than 20% of elementary school-aged children consume the recommended five or more servings of vegetables each day. Would these workshop attendees fit within the 20% of children who do make the cut? If these children are such avid eaters, what’s their secret? Is it that their parents regularly expose the kids to fruits and vegetables from the garden? Is it that these children are encouraged to try new foods like the watermelon radish? Or is it that these children participate in gardens themselves? The coordinators at Friends of Burlington Gardens share success stories of kids and teens who transform their eating habits through a garden program… but what is it about the gardening experience that could improve diet?

Do School Gardeners Eat Their Fruits and Vegetables?

School gardens are a wonderful asset for teaching our youth. They get kids outside. Kids learn about nature and science. And then those kids try the plants they grow, eating their fruits and vegetables.

Hold 0n – I have to agree that I have nodded my head along with everyone else when I hear about a school garden and its success with the youngsters. But how are we all so sure gardens actually change dietary habits?

In November, the blog Schools of Thought posted a story on a school garden located in Atlanta, Georgia. The report shares the program’s success integrating the garden into elementary school curricula. The post opens with a list of fruits and vegetables the students have been exposed to through the garden and how the garden has increased children’s willingness to try new foods. In the post, a teacher’s comment is included: “You’d be surprised… what foods students are willing to try if they grow it themselves.”

But is this always the case with school gardens? Does getting kids in the dirt actually result in their willingness to try new foods?

Last spring, I worked with an after school cooking club at a middle school in Charlottesville, Virginia. The cooking club made different dishes each week which frequently included herbs or produce from the school’s teaching garden. One week, I planned a salad recipe for the students to create, and our first task was to gather some greens from the teaching garden. Because the cooking club is coordinated by the same teachers and community members who assist with the teaching garden programs, there is a large emphasis on using the garden’s produce within recipes, and there are also several students who are members of both the cooking and the garden club. On the week that we made a chef’s salad, I urged the students to try baby mustard greens to see if they thought it would be a good addition to their salad. Not all of the kids were willing to try the bitter, spicy leaf, including some who were also m embers of the teaching garden. So how can we be sure the exposure actually results in better diets?

WP 2/23