Alumni Update: A Single Crunch, Farm to School Program
by Emily Verbeten ’14, Farm to School in Winnebago County
Serving my time as an AmeriCorps Farm to School member for re:TH!NK in Winnebago County, thus far, has been an exceptionally rewarding experience. Coming from a health promotion/wellness background, child obesity has always been a passion of mine. To choose merely one story, with the purpose of demonstrating a difference I have made in one or more lives, is quite difficult. However, there was one experience which comes to mind quite easily. It occurred when we were celebrating Food Day by participating in the Great Apple Crunch event at Oaklawn Elementary School, in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.
A part of my job is to educate children on the subject of nutritional foods, as well as bring the community together to celebrate and talk about these foods, Farm to School, and Wisconsin agriculture. For the Great Apple Crunch event, I invited a local farmer who provided the Honeycrisp apples for the event and Alice in Dairyland, the most recognizable spokesperson of Wisconsin agriculture. Students were able to meet both Alice in Dairyland and the local farmer, as well as listen to them talk about Wisconsin agriculture, why we celebrate Farm to School, the local farms and fun facts about apples.
To celebrate Food Day and the Great Apple Crunch, the local farmer did a countdown and we all bit into a locally grown Honeycrisp apple at the same time. To listen to everyone crunch on the apple as a community, at the same time, was a memorable experience. As I walked around the cafeteria, watching and listening to the young students’ reactions after they bit into their apples was very amusing. I overhead one student say, “This apple tastes better than the store bought apples I usually eat.” Another student looked up at me and said, “This apple tastes like candy!” I noticed that this particular student brought a bagged lunch for school that day that included a sugar cookie. By the end of the event she didn’t even eat her sugar cookie.
This might seem like a very simple and uneventful experience. I have come to realize from this, however, that education and exposing students to farm fresh, high quality produce will only help to turn the tide on early healthy eating habits. Students are more apt to try new foods when they are exposed to them, and take the initiative into learning how/where they are grown, and how/where they are harvested. Once they’ve had the opportunity to learn and taste some of these foods, which they normally wouldn’t, many times they find they really enjoy them. They become educated as to other tasty and healthy alternatives to what they’re typically used to. This is what Farm to School is all about for me. It’s creating an atmosphere for many to have an opportunity to become educated in a very positive manner. This is an experience that otherwise might not typically happen for them.
Fourth and fifth grade students, school staff, the school food service director, the re:TH!NK staff, a local farmer, and Alice in Dairyland, were all touched by this experience. I was not alone. I have come to realize that bringing Americans together to celebrate and enjoy real food not only builds a community to change the American food system, but it also builds relationships as well. The complicated relationship with food makes it difficult to cut back on how much food we consume each day, and the choices we make about the foods we eat. When working with students I constantly try to highlight that making a good choice about the foods we eat, is making a healthy choice whenever possible, and it truly betters the quality of our lives. Working to build a new relationship between young children and nutritional foods, along with the support it gives to local agriculture can, at times, be challenging. It is, however, a very rewarding and positive experience for everyone involved.
Emily Verbeten is a 2014 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point with a degree in health promotion/wellness. She is currently an Americorps community outreach and nutrition education member for re:TH!NK, Winnebago’s Healthy Living Partnership.