Harvest Day—A Veggie Experience

  • CAF Programs, Hero Stories
  • March 08, 2017
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Editor’s Note: The following was written by Jodie Lindsay Popma. Jodie is the mother of two boys and a parent advocate for school food reform at her school district in Longmont, Colorado. You can find out more about Jodie on her website Smart Food Made Simple.

I have always been passionate about healthy food, espeically from local farms. When I had children, my passion became a necessary way of life. I wanted to feed my family nutrient-dense, local food whenever possible. We took weekly trips to the farmers market in Longmont and we made planting gardens a family event. Then, my son entered elementary school, and noticed fresh, local produce was not on the menu. 

In the summer of 2015, St Vrain Valley School District (SVVSD) in Longmont, Colorado created a healthy foods task force to promote healthy eating in school. As a nutritionist, I jumped at the opportunity to join this effort to learn more about nutrition services and provide a voice for change. This is when I met the School Wellness Coordinator, Sarah Harter.

In our discussion, we spoke about Flagstaff Academy Charter School’s geodesic dome and greenhouse program. The geodesic dome was one of the reasons we chose that school for both of my children and because of the unique structure, Sarah thought Flagstaff would be the perfect fit for the Project Produce Grant from the Chef Ann Foundation.

With the grant, we could develop a program that showcased the school’s dome and greenhouse alongside the local farming community, all while educating students about eating healthier and regionally. 

Starting in preschool, students learn about soil health and how it correlates to healthy food and the greenhouse classes are always a favorite among the students. The kids love watching the tomatoes, radishes, sweet peas, spinach and other vegetables grow in a school environment. The only problem with the program was when it came to tasting what they helped grow—there wasn’t enough for all of the students to sample their harvest.

Project Produce provided us with a great opportunity to collaborate with nutrition services, local farms, and the school to create sampling events that reached all of the students.

Many at Flagstaff consider Ollin Farms to be our local school farm. This amazing, organically biodiverse farm is located so close to the school, preschoolers walk there once a year for a field trip! 

Farmers Mark and Kena Guttridge’s daughters attended Flagstaff and they are always eager to give back to the school community. It seemed like a natural fit to partner with Ollin Farms to further the Project Produce grant program.

In the summer of 2015, we decided we would host 4 Harvest Day events for Flagstaff Academy.

  • Each event would showcase seasonal produce from Ollin Farms offering a raw and prepared (cooked) version. 
  • Students would receive a sticker for trying something new during the tasting.
  • At the end of the week, they would all receive a keepsake bookmark with the story of the farm, the recipe served, and fun facts about the vegetable they tasted.

It was important to us to include preschool and half-day kindergarten. Since these students did not come to the cafeteria for lunch, we held special tastings in their classrooms during snack time.

With the help of Ollin Farms, we decided to showcase tomatoes for our first Harvest Day in September 2015. Fresh tomatoes were delivered to St. Vrain Valley School District’s central kitchen 4 days prior to the event.

Shelly Allen, the Director of Nutrition Services, helped prepare a simple, roasted tomato to serve alongside a fresh, bite-sized, cherry tomato. Farmers, Mark and Kena stopped by the school to talk about the colorful tomatoes they grew less than 1 mile from the school. As you might imagine, the parent volunteers, students, and staff were all excited about trying the local tomatoes and the event was a huge success! 

Our other Harvest Day events featured:

  • Turnips—maple mashed turnips
  • Carrots—dill roasted carrots
  • Spinach—whole wheat flatbread spinach pizza

With each event, enthusiasm grew and students looked forward to the next tasting. I was surprised how many students loved the turnips!

Parents sent appreciation notes stating they never thought their child would like turnips and now they are buying them! When we served carrots, students raved about how sweet they were and wanted seconds and thirds. When we served pizza, one 4th grade student said, “this is the best pizza I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a lot of pizza in my life.” Later his mother told me it has become a Friday night staple, thanks to the recipe we sent home.  

We wrapped up the year by hosting a 5th event in late May, and worked with Ollin Farms to create small, in-season produce bags for each family of Flagstaff Academy. These healthy goody bags had spinach, radishes, and Egyptian walking onions. They were distributed at the end of the day on the last Friday of the year.  We also included a simple recipe to showcase the produce.

Harvest Days were such a success in the 2015-2016 school year, Flagstaff Academy decided to support the event in 2016-2017. We needed the school district’s support, as they procure and prepare all the produce, and luckily they were excited to help.

This year we served sweet peppers with a roasted pepper hummus and raw beets alongside a roasted beet with feta and roasted maple winter squash.

So far, each event has been a great success. We were all worried about beets since they can be intimidating to students. However, as soon as their fingers and mouths turn red (without food coloring), they couldn’t stop tasting and having fun!

Even my children tried vegetables they never touch at home! My youngest child, who tends to act picky, had multiple servings of winter squash in January. He has refused to eat squash at home, even though I’ve served it multiple times.

If we have enough produce, students can have as many helpings as they would like. Seconds are encouraged!

Our final Harvest Day of the year is still to be determined, because we need to learn what will be available from Ollin farm in March. They planted radish seeds this past weekend, so that may be the perfect choice.

Collaborating with the farm, the school district, and Flagstaff Academy helps make Harvest Day an amazing experience every time. These events have given students the opportunity to celebrate local produce. In my experience, kids really love learning about nutrition and how foods help their bodies. And I love seeing a child’s face transition from apprehension to delight when they taste something new. 

It is great how Project Produce helped our school develop an amazing event like Harvest Day!

Project Produce is a grant program sponsored by Healthy Skoop and the Walmart Foundation which helps schools increase kids' access to fresh fruits and veggies and provides nutrition education through fun, lunchroom learning activities. 

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