mariah tasting seeds

Eating pumpkin seeds at a FoodCorps event in Rockville.

The 2013 school year in Connecticut is turning out to be an interesting one. In New London, a giant apple showed up to a cafeteria to hand out apple chips, apple cider, and applesauce from apples donated by Palazzi Orchard in Killingly. At North Windham Elementary, 4th and 5th graders were seen standing outside on a beautiful fall day selling vegetables they had grown in their new school garden. Faculty, staff, and community members grabbed at the crisp clean produce, leaving only a few handfuls of herbs by the end of the day. In New Haven, rumors are spreading about small hands in the school kitchen scooping innards out of miniature baking pumpkins, whipping up low-sugar pumpkin custard, pouring the custard back into the hollowed out pumpkins and baking crustless Pumpkin-Pumpkin Pies. In Ansonia, 6th graders were seen walking from their school to nearby Massaro Community Farm, where they transplanted spinach into raised bed cold-frames and solved mysteries about how garlic grows and what yummy orange root vegetable was growing under the fine green strands seen above-ground. Pre-schoolers were found relishing raw spinach snacks in Hartford. Putnam students have been gobbling up fresh carrots from a visiting farmer and feeding red-wiggler worms compost scraps. New Haven garden-clubbers are jumping up and down in excitement at the idea that they could one day be a gardener or farmer – and not just for Halloween. Kids all across the state are acting very strange indeed…or are they?

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Another student in Rockville enjoying pumpkin seeds at the cooking club.

There is a narrative out there that kids wont eat healthy, but FoodCorps believes (and sees) differently. Twelve FoodCorps service members in school districts across the state are educating kids about where their food comes from, how to prepare delicious meals with fresh, local produce, and how all this relates to personal and community health. In Norwich, New London, New Haven, Bridgeport, Ansonia, New Britain, Hartford, East Hartford, Rockville, Windham and Putnam, FoodCorps service members are supported by community organizations (usually a non-profit, or the school food services department). Service members work with many other partners nearby and around the state (such as the Connecticut Farm-to-School program, Connecticut Ag in the Classroom, Cooking Matters, UConn dietetic interns, and local farmers) to teach classes, build school gardens, and help bring more local produce into school cafeterias. When all these resources are brought together into the school, they help foster fun, positive relationships between kids and whole, unprocessed foods. Students not only learn the link between diet and health, but they learn how to participate in and enjoy the process of making those healthier choices. When these practices are integrated simultaneously in their classrooms, the cafeteria, and at home, we have a real chance of bettering student health outcomes for the future and reversing the trend of childhood diet-related diseases.

So this spooky season, while candy abounds on every corner, the strangest thing you might see is a kid eating a carrot with gusto in his classroom, or hear tales of a class of Ansonia 2nd graders who, on their first encounter, fell in love with baked kale chips…but we promise you, it won’t be strange for long.

FoodCorps is a national non-profit private/public partnership that operates an AmeriCorps program – a nationwide team of leaders that helps kids grow up healthy. The program first came to Connecticut last year through the inspiration and guidance of Jiff Martin, Sustainable Food Systems Educator at the Tolland County UConn Extension office. This year, with the help of the Connecticut Commission on Community Service and other funders, the program was able to expand from the original 5 sites to the current 12. For more information, please contact Dana Stevens at dana.stevens@foodcorps.org, visit our website, and like us on Facebook!