On spreading the good news…of kale, that is

Greens from the Magnolia garden.

Greens from the Magnolia garden.

One of my mother’s favorite pastimes is getting my stepfather to unknowingly eat his vegetables–and enjoy them. Kale and beets are her current champions, but during summer’s bounty, she’ll creatively experiment with varieties of eggplant, tomatoes, and summer squash. Mom’s surreptitious cooking exploits have slowly chipped away at Cecil’s white-bread-and-bologna upbringing. He now reluctantly eats tofu and vegetable curry, enthusiastically enjoys a bowl of homemade chili (unaware of the finely diced kale and ground beets within), and I even saw him eating the seaweed from his bowl of ramen.

Mom and Cecil, loving husband and culinary guinea pig.

Mom and Cecil, loving husband and culinary guinea pig.

I am my mother’s daughter in a lot of ways, and this is one of them. Once, I brought black bean avocado brownies to an office party, waiting until the entire plate was devoured before revealing the identities of their secret ingredients, to the horror of some of my coworkers.

Garden goofballs.

Some of my favorite garden goofballs.

Although it was tempting, I decided to keep the secret ingredients to a minimum when preparing for our first school garden open house event. With the chaotic energy of the holidays enveloping the school in a Christmas-themed cloud, I thought it appropriate to host a celebration in honor of how far our garden program had come in the past three and a half months. Of course, the ulterior motive was to recruit parent volunteers and co-opt more teachers to the ways of the garden

Central to the occasion was the food, relatively healthy food. Prentiss made a delicious sweet potato cake; I made a salad with quinoa, dried cranberries, and a few pounds of garden fresh collards, kale, and broccoli leaves. And to entertain the Santa-crazed children, I had a craft table set up making holiday-themed potato prints (but actually y’all, this activity is not just for kids).

Lots of good food. And a raw potato, acting as a paperweight.

Lots of good food. And a raw potato, acting as a paperweight.

Potato prints.

Potato printing: surprisingly easy and addictive.

Overall, it was successful. Even though only one parent showed up, there was a good turnout of teachers and staff, a few community members, and all of the Jackson FoodCorps ladies. I especially enjoyed talking to the people who, though initially dubious of the whole “garden business,” were now excitedly asking questions about growing beets and making kale salads. Some of the kiddos picked giant bok choy leaves as party favors, a few of which were devoured before making it into the building.

Potato print champs!

Arts and crafts champs!

IMG_2895

As much as I enjoy manipulating people to eat vegetables, moments like these, when kids (and adults) independently make choices that benefit their health are far more gratifying. I think that allowing kids to make healthy choices on their own is the best way for them to form lasting healthy habits. The key is providing students with the means to make those choices, educating them about food, and encouraging them to step outside their comfort zones.

Eating their greens, and looking into the sun.

Eating our greens and looking into the sun.

It can also mean not being personally offended when an 8 year old sprints to the trash can to spit out that organic, locally grown radish or collapses in dry heaves at the sight of the school compost pile.  Cherishing the small victories are reason enough for me to keep doing what I’m doing. Because witnessing that same radish spitter-outer nibbling on kale stems of his own accord is, to me, on par with any Christmas miracle.

Advertisements

The cutest combination: kids+vegetables

From top left: fall vegetable transplants, tire herb garden, cardboard weed suppressant in the pumpkin patch, rosemary in bloom.

From top left: fall vegetable transplants, tire herb garden, cardboard weed suppressant in the pumpkin patch, rosemary in bloom.

After about 5 weeks, I feel like the garden education program at my school is finally starting to take off. Teachers and staff know and recognize me, I work steadily with 2 classrooms (hopefully adding more soon!) plus some music classes, and the garden is *mostly* planted and growing.  Last week Prentiss and I planted our fall/winter transplants: collard greens (a Southern staple), kale, broccoli, cauliflower, red cabbage, brussels sprouts, and spinach. On Wednesday, my oldest class helped us plant. I showed them how to gently loosen the roots before putting the plants in the ground and covering them fully with healthy black top soil.

Planting seed tapes.

Planting seed tapes.

Watching how much pride and care each student displayed in handling their plants made me aware of how often adults, including me, underestimate children’s ability to successfully take on responsibility. I’ve noticed this in terms of eating too. A teacher will say “Oh, Daniel would never touch a vegetable,” yet when Daniel learns about the vegetable and helps prepare it, he’ll eat it, leaving his teach flabbergasted.  I’m excited to take on more challenging lessons  with my classes that empower them to try new things.

Nature bracelets, pea shoots, and pumpkin seeds.

Nature bracelets, pea shoots, and pumpkin seeds.

One of my favorite lessons so far was making a “roots, fruits, and leaves slaw” with red cabbage, carrots, apples, and raisins.  We had just learned about the six different plant parts, so this lesson was meant to tie in that concept while encouraging the kids to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. The students helped cut and spiralize our ingredients, prepare the dressing, and then taste the fruits (and veggies) of their labor.

Mixing the salad dressing. Cool layers!

Mixing the salad dressing. Cool layers!

A month ago, this activity would have probably been accompanied by a chorus of “nasty!” and “yuck!,” but throughout the whole class kids were covertly tasting pieces of cabbage and apple peels. Almost all of them finished their entire bowls of slaw. The only negative comment came from one student who exclaimed “this smells like an armpit!” But then I realized…cabbage does kind of smell like  an armpit.

Crunchin' on some roots, fruits, and leaves.

Crunchin’ on some roots, fruits, and leaves.

Other activities have included making “nature bracelets” with painter’s tape and wildflowers, planting seeds, smelling herbs, measuring the heights of various sprouts, and singing songs about dirt. I’ve also been coordinating with a farmer friend to come to my school later this week to talk to the students about how he grows vegetables and raises animals. He’ll even be bringing some of his silky chickens for the kids to hold and touch. On Saturday, I stopped by the farmers’ market to pick up a big box of his produce so that I can do taste testings ahead of time with the kids. I want them to make the connection between the vegetables and the person who grows them. I’m really going to have to get creative, though; most of the vegetables in season now are varieties of mustard greens, herbs, and radishes, which, while beautiful and tasty, may be a bit of a stretch for some of the students’ palates. BUT, never underestimate, right?

Showing off our nature fashion accessories.

Showing off their nature fashion accessories.