Bring a Farmer to School Day Builds Healthy Food Culture

December 17, 2018 |

December 17, 2018
Casey Haggerty, FoodCorps AmeriCorps service member with Groundwork

The last day of October’s National Farm to School month has arrived, and three local farmers and one non-farmer farm-to-school devotee join me at Pellston Elementary. I’m a FoodCorps AmeriCorps service member who has been working to create a culture of local, healthy foods in the school, and my guests have agreed to meet students during lunch so kids can make the connection between their food and who is growing it. My guests include Mary Rapin, co-owner of Bliss Gardens Farm and Community Kitchen, Cathy Strojny, a homesteader, Theresa Raikko, a dairy farmer, and Pat Dobson, a community member passionate about connecting students to healthy food.

Curious About Farmers!
I usher them into the cafeteria, where elementary students are snaking their way through the lunch line. As we set up our display table, their heads turn toward us. The kids jostle to peer over one another as they try to determine what we are up to.

From a reusable shopping bag, Rapin produces jars of kale chips and a basket laden with fresh kale. Next to her, Strojny places a bowl of raw kohlrabi cut into triangles near a bowl of homemade ranch dip. She hefts a whole kohlrabi the size of a volleyball onto the table, and then places another kohlrabi bulb a quarter its size next to it. The large bulb is homegrown, while the smaller one is store-bought. Strojny wants students to see the difference between the two and know what people are capable of growing at this northern latitude. I lay two posters with columns labeled “tried it, liked it, loved it” by each sample of produce, so students can vote for how they felt about each food after tasting a sample.

Casey Haggerty (left) and student Lily Smith honoring fresh greens.

Students dart up, sometimes alone, sometimes in groups, to load samples onto their trays. Some of them are skeptical, hanging back as if the vegetables will strike at any moment. However, many are eager to try each vegetable. Their eyes widen in surprise and delight, and nods of approval ripple like a wave through the crowd. Emboldened by their classmates, most of the children are soon clambering for kohlrabi and kale. Several students come back for seconds, thirds, and even fourths. Soon, students are even asking to try the raw kale that sits in the basket behind the chips! “It was fun seeing the kids being so willing to try foods that were new to them,” Cathy Strojny later remarks. Votes steadily fill the “loved it” column.

One-to-One Connections

Raikko and Rapin peel off to visit students as they eat, sitting next to them to share experiences in farming and to show photos of Raikko’s dairy cows, which are met with loud “Awws!” The farmers also share a song they like to sing while working in the fields. It is about being grateful to the earth and the crops that grow from it. Over the din of the cafeteria, the song softly rises, gradually gaining strength as students join in. “Oh, the earth’s been good to me, and so I thank the earth for giving me the things I need.” When Rapin was later asked what most stood out to her that day, she replied “The singing and the music. They were so into it. I loved that. They were really into teaching it to the table next to them, and the table next to them, and the table next to them …”

When the students file out of the cafeteria, many of them call out, “Thank you!” while others beg for one more piece of kohlrabi or kale. As my guests and I pack up our supplies, we realize that the high school lunch hasn’t ended yet. Smiles on our faces, we sprint over to the high school to continue spreading the joy of kohlrabi and kale, and appreciation for farmers. In no time, the high schoolers line up just like the little kids did. When one student says, “Thank you for making these a thing!” after trying kale chips, we all know it was worth the scramble to get kids and farmers together.

Casey Haggerty is a FoodCorps AmeriCorps service member with Groundwork who serves in the Pellston and Boyne Falls school districts.This work in the northern counties is supported by the Petoskey-Harbor Springs Area Community Foundation, the Charlevoix County Community Foundation, and many more.


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