Rural schoolchildren try new, healthy foods with Harvest of the Month
Posted by Lesa McPeak | May 5, 2021
Elementary schoolchildren in the rural community of Touchet, Wash., encountered farm-grown fruits and vegetables and learned about the benefits of a healthy diet through the Harvest of the Month project.
A partnership between the Walla Walla County Department of Community Health (WWCDCH) and Touchet School District, the program launched in fall 2019 as part of SNAP-Ed’s efforts to educate children and families about nutrition and healthy lives.
“Harvest of the Month at Touchet was a great success,” said Jessalyn Waring Bruce, SNAP-Ed Coordinator with the Walla Walla County Department of Community Health. “The school really ran with it.”
Building a healthy partnership
SNAP-Ed has offered outreach programs in southeastern Washington for the past decade, focusing on education for elementary-age children, as well as improving food access for adults and families through local food banks.
For Harvest of the Month, Waring Bruce built on an established relationship with Touchet Elementary School, where she provides direct education to students in first and second grades. Waring Bruce approached staff at Touchet to gauge interest in expanding their nutrition education program through the Harvest of the Month model.
Created by school districts in California, Harvest of the Month is a nutrition education program that helps increase access and youth preference for fruits and vegetables, expanding familiarity with the state’s rich agricultural bounty.
Teachers and Touchet School District Food Service Manager Kirsten Royse were enthusiastic about the idea, and the partnership soon expanded to include the Walla Walla Valley Farm to School Program.
With guidance from the Farm to School program, Royse sourced produce from local farms, while Waring Bruce created educational materials and fun activities to engage children in the classroom and their homes.
“We polled children on whether they liked the foods after their taste tests, and tried to bring a fun atmosphere to the cafeteria on Harvest days,” Waring Bruce said.
Trying new tastes
Harvest of the Month introduced potatoes, carrots, beets, apples, and turnips from local farms. Health educators visited the school once a month during lunch hour, inviting students to taste-test vegetables and fruits.
Roycs prepared the produce in a variety of food ways, from beet smoothies to seasoned potatoes that had students requesting seconds and thirds.
“We started with apples, then carrots, potatoes, and beets, which we made into smoothies,” she said. “We finished with turnips.”
Schoolchildren were excited to try the featured foods, some of which were new to them. While a few were hesitant with some unfamiliar vegetables, after a few months, most students were willing to taste them.
The project soon expanded to middle and high school students, who eat lunch in the same cafeteria right after their younger peers.
Through the program, Touchet School District has built a partnership with local farms to provide produce for Harvest of the Month at a discounted rate. Students are trying new foods, and the county Department of Community Health is sharing messages of healthy eating and the importance of trying a variety of fruits and vegetables.
“Children don’t always know where vegetables come from, how they’re grown, or that fresh vegetables taste better,” Royse said. “It was so much fun to watch the students try something new.”
“I’m very thankful to Jessalyn with SNAP-Ed for putting so much information together for the students,” she added.
While the project paused during the COVID-19 pandemic, plans are in motion to restart Harvest of the Month at Touchet and expand to other schools. Starting in spring 2021, students will bring home fresh produce, recipes, and activity sheets.
“We’re going to do asparagus in April,” Royse said, “And radishes and spinach, with luck, in May.”
View a video on how SNAP-Ed, the Walla Walla County Department of Community Health, and Whitman College educate children on locally grown produce.
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