We Like Big Broccoli and We Cannot Lie

by FoodCorps Service Member Susie Burton

This blog post also appears on the FoodCorps Friday feature on Georgia Organics’ Daily Dirt

Avid readers of FoodCorps Friday on the Daily Dirt might remember that in September, the FoodCorps Georgia team visited Level Grove Elementary in Habersham County to teach a lesson and help second grade students plant in their garden (and if you don’t remember, don’t worry, because I just told you).

After months of careful waterings, gentle tucking-ins under ground cover, and hopeful watching, the broccoli planted by Mrs. Laura Traudt’s second grade class flourished into big, beautiful crowns.

A few weeks ago, the second graders harvested their hard work, plucking florets from the stem and carrying them inside to cook.  Practicing knowledge of fractions and kitchen skills, they made greek yogurt broccoli salad and lemon zesty broccoli with pasta (two recipes from Level Grove’s taste test repertoire).

Everyone tasted both recipes–after a year and a half of school wide taste tests, we at Level Grove know the benefits of a “try things” attitude–and wrote a persuasive paragraph about why their preferred recipe is the superior recipe.

This experience from seedling to plate has me thinking about the reciprocity between the broccoli, the students, and the service member.  The students grow the broccoli by watering, weeding, and watching.  The broccoli grows the students by offering experiential learning opportunities and expanding their palates for healthy foods.  The service member grows the students by facilitating those opportunities and creating a safe, inclusive learning environment.  The students grow the service member–my students grow me–with constant reminders of small and essential truths.

Small and essential truths like the privilege of watching a plant grow from a slight seedling to a hearty harvest–and to know that one’s own hand had a part to play in that growth–is one of the purest and most reassuring joys of life.

Small and essential truths like that of our ultimate vulnerability–our ultimate dependence on minuscule molecular processes and the tender loving care of other creatures.

Small and essential truths like how that ultimate vulnerability makes relationships of reciprocity–like those between the broccoli, the students, and myself–the great happiness and the great purpose of service.  I’m grateful to FoodCorps, Georgia Organics, the Food Bank of Northeast Georgia, my teachers and my students for the opportunity to live in that happiness and that purpose every day.

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September sunshine welcomed our broccoli seedlings to the garden

 

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Chilly temperatures over winter break were no match for Level Grove’s farm to school dream team and our love of big broccoli

 

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Everyone say, “Broccoli!”

 

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As always, farm to school lessons help us practice cooperation and sharing, whether we’re sharing our harvest or cutting board real estate

 

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Lots of little hands make light work

 

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Closing our eyes to practice experiencing new flavors

 

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It’s a hit…

 

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… with some of us. But we know it’s okay not to like something, as long as we do our best to be adventurous eaters

Insect Fun!

By: FoodCorps Service Member Katie Sanders

Today at South Jackson Elementary we were lucky to have a visit from Allison Johnson with the UGA Entomology Department Insect Zoo. Ms. Allison visited with our 4th grade class and stayed during our special time with a mix of students from grades 3rd-5th. Although our students are familiar with garden insects that provide pollination benefits, they had not had much exposure to predatory insects and their benefits in a garden setting.

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Ms. Allison was excellent at capturing our student’s attention.

Ms. Allison led a discussion on the differences between camouflage and mimicry in insects and let the students hold a stick bug with its leaf like appendages. She even taught about what makes something an insect or not. Bug friends in the insect zoo included a tailless whip scorpion and a Madagascar hissing cockroach among others.

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The students were able to get creative and draw anatomically correct insects after observing them.

After playing with the bug friends, we discussed with the students about the opportunities to use insects as a food source. Ms. Allison shared with our students that 1 tsp of ground cricket “flour” has an equivalent amount of protein to two ribeye steaks! The students were even able to try out some cricket salsa that had the cricket flour stirred into it. After class we could hear the students talking all the way down the hallway about how they had eaten “REAL crickets!!”

 

Quick and dirty lessons

by FoodCorps Service Member Susie Burton

Garden-based lessons can be difficult to plan and execute.  You’ve got to balance the content that needs to be covered, what’s growing in the garden at the time of your lesson, and the unique classroom management requirements of a school garden.

Garden-based lessons can also be really stinkin’ easy.

Today, after a ten-minute chat with one third grade teacher and a few strategic strokes of whiteout, we transformed an “area scavenger hunt” worksheet into a garden-based lesson.  I co-taught three classes of third graders, introducing the mathematical concept of area and how to calculate it by measuring our garden beds and other features of our outdoor classroom.

Ten minutes of conversation, a bottle of whiteout, a box of rulers, and a stack of worksheets is all it took to create a lesson which resulted in 40 minutes of experiential learning for each of 50 students.

40 minutes/student x 50 students= 33 hours of student experience in the garden

Complex and intensive lessons in the garden can be really fun and really meaningful, but it’s good to remember that creating a garden-based lesson can be as simple as measuring a raised bed instead of a desk, counting seeds instead of Skittles, or calculating the cost of broccoli instead of basketballs.

Just make sure you have the whiteout handy.

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Slight smile as we master a new skill

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Taking on the challenge of our longest garden bed!

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Ms. Susie got a little bit distracted from quality photo taking (because look at how pretty and green those carrot tops along the left are!)

 

 

Garden Learning in the Winter

By: FoodCorps Service Member Katie Sanders

Although it may not seem like we’ve had typical winter temperatures the past few days, our garden activity has been still been quite limited since our return from winter break. With that limitation, my service has involved a good amount indoor garden lessons and preparation for the upcoming spring plantings. Last week in our cooking class we made kale smoothies with our 1st grade students that included kale, apple cider and frozen bananas. Simple, yet delicious, and the students absolutely loved them! We even discussed  how our bodies use the nutrients from the apples, kale, and bananas.

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Mr. Lush showing our eager students the smoothie making process.

Kindergarten has been preparing for spring planting in their own way by creating plant part posters with real seeds on them. The students will be able to take these home with them and (hopefully!) be able to grow some spring veggies when they plant them in the ground. The seeds that they glued on included lettuce variety seeds and kale seeds!

Since our return from the break the deer have still been relentless in their destruction of our garden. With the help of a wonderful donation from the local Home Depot, I was finally able to secure our garden beds with deer fencing and keep them safe. Already I see a big difference in our plants now that they are not getting chomped on every night!

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The deer fencing is a little hard to see but all the better to take care of those unsuspecting deer!

 

 

 

The Gift of Turnips

by FoodCorps Service Member Susie Burton

As y’all might have noticed, the Northeast Georgia Farm to School blog went silent for the past couple of weeks.  Our staff enjoyed a bit of time off over the holidays, and we hope y’all did, too, cozying up with good food and good people.

I stayed warm and fuzzy all break long, just by reminiscing about Chuck and Amy Mashburn’s visit to Level Grove Elementary.  For those who might not have had the immense pleasure of meeting Chuck and Amy (or of trying trying Amy’s incredible Burmese peanuts), they farm at Mill Gap Farm in Rabun County.  In addition to growing and preparing some of the best food in Northeast GA (I’m not kidding about those peanuts, y’all), Chuck and Amy actively support farm to school programming in the area, and have done so since NEGA F2S’ inception.

They visited LGES’ fourth grade students a few weeks ago, bringing along gorgeous photos of Mill Gap Farm and even more gorgeous hakurei turnips for tasting.  The visit formed an extension for a writing project the fourth graders completed in November, persuading readers to shop locally for their food. After learning and writing about the benefits of knowing your farmer, students actually got to know a farmer, asking Chuck and Amy all sorts of questions about their land, their growing practices, and their decision to sell locally.

The best part of the visit (at least in Ms. Susie’s hungry opinion) came when we all got to taste the hakurei turnips, both raw and some that Amy sautéed with the greens, butter, salt, and pepper.  After over a year of taste tests, LGES students know the benefits of a “try things” attitude, and oh boy, were there benefits!  It required several servings of both the sautéed and raw turnips to decide, but raw turnips won the day with the fourth graders, who decided to ask our cafeteria staff to consider putting them on the lunch line.

This kind of concrete learning opportunity–in which students get a tangible experience that connects directly to what they learn in the classroom, and then use that experience to advocate for locally-sourced turnips on the lunch line–is a Farm to School dream.

A thousand thanks to Chuck and Amy for making that dream come true.  If you’re considering trying some hakurei turnips for yourself, Mill Gap Farm sells on the year-round, online Northeast Georgia Locally Grown Market.

(Don’t forget Amy’s Burmese peanuts. Seriously. Not a joke. Y’all have got to try the peanuts.)

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Chuck shows students photos of Mill Gap Farm, while Amy chops and sautés 

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Amy’s incredible knife skills+the fancy new tools in our mobile cooking cart=turnip magic

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4th grade teacher Brandi Burrell can’t pass out seconds of raw turnips fast enough

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Eager hands shoot up in response to that enticing questions, “Who wants more?”

All About Sweet Potatoes

By: FoodCorps Service Member Katie Sanders

This week at South Jackson Elementary School was all about the glorious sweet potato. After hearing of decreased interest in sweet potatoes on the lunch line, I decided to run a couple of taste testing opportunities to try and spruce up our consumption. Thanks to our friends over at Cedar Grove Farm we were well stocked with beautiful (and huge!) sweet taters.

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The sign from the taste test is now displayed up on the wall outside the cafeteria.

On Tuesday I set up a taste test booth outside the cafeteria and served up sweet potato chunks that were roasted with cinnamon sugar. Our school’s student ambassadors, made up of 4th and 5th grade students, volunteered during their lunch time to assist with the tasting. They took statistical data on whether the other students tried it, liked it, and would try it again. We had 277 students try them and out of that group, 212 students liked them and would try them again!

On Wednesday I used my time with my after school club, Sprout Scouts, to be able to let the students decide how they wanted to cook up sweet potatoes. They all chose to make chips out of them with salt and pepper. Surprisingly, even some of the Sprout Scouts who declined the taste test from Tuesday tried the chip version and loved them!

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Apparently crunchy and salty is better than sweet and soft.

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Enjoying the sweet potato crisps!

Thursday was the main event though, as that was the day that they were serving sweet potatoes on the lunch line. Even after the increased sweet potato propaganda this week and the taste tests, the potatoes still weren’t the favorite lunch line option. It is funny how set children are on their dislike of sweet potatoes. However there were a few examples of sweet potato love. I had a handful of students who tried them for the first time and actually liked them! As well as more than one student telling me that they tried them on the lunch line after having them at the taste test. I’m learning that these little victories are what FoodCorps is all about so I’d say sweet potato week was a success!

 

The December School Nutrition Team of the Month is…

by FoodCorps Service Member Susie Burton

… Habersham County!

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Andrea Thomas showing off her selfie skills and our new garden beds at Level Grove Elementary

I dropped by the office of Andrea Thomas, Habersham’s School Nutrition Director, the other day to chat about farm to school and what it means to her and to our county.

In school nutrition since 2003, Andrea joined Habersham’s team as School Nutrition Director in March of 2014.  Educator, coordinator, and overall superstar Teri Hamlin did much of the work to launch Habersham F2S in the years prior to Andrea’s arrival, with vital support from then-SND Paige Holland.  Andrea credits our current program to their passion and dedication, insisting that, “without [them] it wouldn’t have started at all.”  Andrea jumped right in to the F2S movement, and the arrival of Habersham’s first FoodCorps service members, Sumer Ladd and Ian Rossiter, in the fall of 2014 bolstered the program’s classroom connections and school garden components.

With that strong foundation, Habersham continues to make F2S a substantial part of its School Nutrition Program, with expanding school gardens, school wide taste tests of Georgia-grown items, and a successful FFVP program.  Each menu created by Andrea and her staff highlights a Georgia-grown Harvest of the Month item, which cafeteria staffs feature on lunch trays throughout the month (speaking of lunch trays, Andrea’s favorite school lunch tray features chicken and is piled high with mashed potatoes, fall vegetables, fruit, and white milk).  Andrea’s F2S goals for the 2016-17 school year include procuring the best-tasting, most affordable meats, fruits, and vegetables for the program, and to continue earning recognition from Georgia Organics’ Golden Radish Awards.

What motivates Andrea and her staff to achieve those goals?  A holistic understanding of the value of F2S for students and the greater Habersham community.  As Andrea explains, F2S means bringing, “fruits and vegetables from local farmers into the school, allowing students to have access to them.  Students know where their food is grown, and it keeps local money in the local economy.”  Andrea adds, “it should be more nutritious since it hasn’t run around in a truck and gone to Cuba and back before we get it.”

How does Habersham School Nutrition go about achieving their F2S goals?  By putting faith in the cafeteria staff members, the boots on the ground who feed thousands of students every day. Of all the fantastic things her school nutrition program accomplishes, Andrea is proudest of her staff and their daily efforts to make a difference in kids’ lives.

As a second year service member in Habersham, I’m more than a little biased when it comes to our School Nutrition Team. From the district office staff–who make local procurement happen–to the cafeteria staffs at CES and LGES–who put their blood, sweat, and tears into our taste tests (metaphorically, of course)–I am blessed to serve with these folks.  Their dedication to serving our students the very best, day in and day out and year after year, is incredible.

 

Oh Deer!

By: Katie Sanders, FoodCorps service member

It started as a normal afternoon last Wednesday when I went out to our school garden to harvest some spinach for our upcoming cooking class. We had recently grown an abundance of the dark green plant and our students were eager to get to try it as an ingredient in our spinach and cheese quesadillas.

Unfortunately, it seems that the deer from the surrounding area were just as equally eager.

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Where garden beds used to be full of growth was now nothing but stubby stems and large hoof prints in the soil. The following day our carrots took a similar hit, and by Friday we had lost our beds of beets, Swiss chard, dill, cilantro (I didn’t even know deer ate cilantro!!) and flowers. Unfortunately this week the damage has gotten worse and almost everything has been eaten to the ground.

Despite the fact that our garden looks a bit annihilated right now, we were able to have some really good discussions with our students about why the deer were in our garden. Second and fourth grade were able to connect their knowledge on the seasons to the deers’ need for water in the previous drought period. First grade was able to do the same with their water cycle knowledge. Kindergarten discussed the needs of living things and that deer too enjoy eating fresh produce. With our other classes we talked about the physiology of deer, their diets, and why the deer were pushed to come all the way up close to our school building.

Our students were obviously disappointed to see the garden eaten but they were genuinely interested in learning about deer and how animal behavior is affected by weather and stress. It was also good to be able to turn this disappointment into a lesson!

 

Nature to School Connection with Wild Intelligence

by: Katie Sanders, FoodCorps Service Member

Special visitors are always exciting at our school but this week we were extra excited to have Sarah Hubbard, or Mrs. Chickadee, from Wild Intelligence join our Scienhancement class at South Jackson Elementary School. Wild Intelligence is an Athens based program that interacts with children and adults alike on nature based programs during the school year and over the summer.

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Mr. Lush leading the students on the trail

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Our 2nd graders eagerly listening to Mrs. Chickadee on the Nature Trail

South Jackson is blessed to have a strong support of Farm to School activities in their Scienhancement class, however it is not often that we are able to take the students out into the woods and talk about the importance of the uncultivated world as well. For each class we were able to discuss what causes the changing of the seasons as well as what effect that has on the trees themselves. Our students will be able to relay this information today about seasonal change into our regular garden learning that we will jump back into after the holiday break. It was great to be able to talk to students about trees and tree growth as they are often not included in our normal garden learning. In addition to being essential components of our natural world, trees and associated tree farms serve as major commodities that link right in to Farm to School learning as well!

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Leaves as big as our 2nd grader’s hands!

We want to give a special thank you to Sarah Hubbard and Wild Intelligence for helping us create a fun day in the woods for our students. We certainly hope to have her visit with us more in the future! For more information on their programs please click here: Wild Intelligence.

The Good to Live For

by FoodCorps Service Member Susie Burton

I am blessed to have a childhood friend who offers thoughtful, comforting words in times of grief and fear.  This week, she wrote to remind me “how much good there will always be to live and work and fight for.”

I saw that good this week, as I went with 5th graders on a field trip to Amanda’s Farm to Fork in Lula, and as I passed out broccoli samples during two taste tests.

My students and their opportunities to learn about and eat food that nourishes their bodies and our community, no matter their race, gender identity, ethnicity or religion–that is the good for which I will continue to live and work and fight and serve.

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Learning about beekeeping and the critical importance of bees in agriculture

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Listening closely for a “buzz”

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Thumbs up for homemade farm cheese! (I would have gotten a picture of the cheese, but we ate it quickly and completely…)

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The joy of trying new things

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Big broccoli, big smile

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First graders trying lemon zesty broccoli

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“Who wants more broccoli?”