“You can’t make chips from apples!”
“Wait, these are orange.”
These were just a few reactions to our healthy snacking lesson in my first grade class at Mackenzie Elementary-Middle School in Detroit. The students were all very familiar with potato chips and couldn’t help but shout out their favorites. None of them, however, could tell me what was in them or where they came from. This led into a great educational moment. We talked about how potatoes grow and the processing that happens when they are made into potato chips. They saw how the vegetables we could grow and pull from the ground were no longer nutritious. This led into a discussion on what healthy snacking means, and we brainstormed healthy snacks we could eat instead of potato chips. I then brought out the apple and sweet potato chips and was met with some very confused faces.
“You just told us chips aren’t healthy!”
This was true. At least I knew they were listening.
So we then talked about how these chips were made, and I brought out the dehydrator to demonstrate. The only ingredients in our chips were sweet potatoes and apples; we did not add oil, salt or sugar to them. I showed them how the fruits and vegetables could be cut into thin pieces, laid on the drying trays and turned into chips.
Then came the best part: the taste test. Each student got to try apple and sweet potato chips. There was definitely some hesitation, but it quickly went away. They realized how crunchy they were and how naturally sweet the apples tasted. Then I heard “Can we have seconds?”
One student asked me to just leave the bowl of chips at his desk as he exclaimed, “I want to eat all the apple chips!”
I was also able to connect this lesson back to our school garden and explain how these fruits and vegetables grow. We compared the apple and sweet potato and learned how the apple was a “top” and grew above the ground, and the sweet potato was a “bottom” and grew underground. I drew a picture on the board, and each student then took a turn to tell me their favorite fruit and vegetable. Then we figured out where it grew too. As we went around the room, I added these new fruits and vegetables to our picture. We had a very full garden by the end! The students were really excited when they figured out where their favorites came from. I then passed out coloring sheets so they could take the information home to their families.
Sometimes all you need to engage a group of kids is sitting right in front of you. For me, that was apples and sweet potatoes. Both of these had just been harvested from our farm and garden sites. This year we have 78 school gardens and two farm sites as part of the Detroit School Garden Collaborative (DSGC). DSGC is a Farm to School initiative sponsored by The Detroit Public School’s Office of School Nutrition and The Office of Science. I am fortunate enough to be one of two FoodCorps service members with this program. FoodCorps partners with organizations like DSGC that are working for the common mission to connect kids to real food to help them grow up healthy. This year, we were able to grow over 15 different crops at Drew Farms, a three acre site at Drew Transition Center. Drew Farms produced over 20,000 pounds of food this past year that was distributed directly to cafeterias, as well as community farm stands and food pantries.
Many of our classroom cooking lessons have been centered on what we have available from the farm and gardens. For example, we had an abundance of curly kale at our ½ acre farm at Mackenzie Elementary-Middle School this fall. A few weeks later we had green smoothie lessons, where students were able to try a new vegetable and learn about local foods. Most students had never tried kale before, and I was met with some “yucks” because of the green color. Then I compared it to collard greens, which the class was more familiar with, and we learned how it helps keep our teeth and bones strong. All my students then tried our kale smoothies, and I was met with many thumbs up and hilarious smoothie mustaches. I still have classes that ask when our next smoothie day will be. If it was up to my fourth graders, that would be every week.
I have also been able to make Salsa Verde with a class that harvested green tomatoes from their outdoor classroom in southwest Detroit, as well as making Rainbow Wraps with spinach grown in our high tunnels at Drew Farms. Through the Detroit School Garden Collaborative, students all across the city are learning what it means to eat healthy and that they can grow vegetables right at their school. This program truly is making a difference, and I am very grateful to be a part of it.