It’s lunch time in the crowded cafeteria at Marcy Open School in Minneapolis. Kenisha pulls a snap pea from her pocket and covertly, proudly, shows it to her hungry friends, “Look what I still have.” Enviously admiring the small pod as if it were the newest candy, the other girls remember the sweet crunch from their food adventure of the morning. But Kenisha is not sharing, not this time.
Under the guidance of a Midwest Food Connection educator, all first graders had tasted a snap pea that morning, the whole pod sans leafy end. That had been the simple memorable climax to an hour in which every child had gotten their hands dirty and wet starting vegetables seeds. They had filled a cup with soil, moistened it with a spray bottle, and chosen either snap peas, cucumbers, kale, or beans.
It was the beginning of one more culinary adventure. All these years later, dirt, seeds, and flavors from the garden are as fascinating to first graders as they were in 1996.
For 20 years we have been making these adventures happen. Children have learned to love new flavors, to cut, mix and cook savory dishes, and to pick fresh veggies from the garden, and take seedlings home for summer harvest. Midwest Food Connection (MFC) has sent dynamic and skilled teachers into elementary classroom almost every day of the school year, and children have responded with joy, enthusiasm, and an eagerness for more.
Recently, also at Marcy School in Minneapolis, an eighth grader was assisting in a kindergarten class I was teaching. “I remember when you had us taste purple cabbage,” she fondly remembered, “it’s been one of my favorite vegetables ever since.” A mother stopped me in the produce section of the Wedge in the summer with her teenage daughter. Shyly she thanked me for the years of visits to her elementary classrooms, while her mother praised MFC’s lessons for changing their eating in the home.
Two students whose lives we know to have touched. We teach over 7,000 children every year, and since 1996, it has likely been 100,000. Surely not all of them have changed their ways or remembered a favorite vegetable, but we have learned that an exciting, well-presented lesson that engages all senses of a student, as well as the heart, has a lasting effect. The classroom teachers, who keep inviting us back to their schools, have seen this as well.
“This is by far the most rewarding educational experience my students have been involved with this year.”
“I loved how applicable all the material is to students’ home life. The skills taught are life skills and so valuable for students to know in order to make better life choices.”
We have much to celebrate this year, and we hope you will join us. Do you or your children have experiences with MFC that we can share? We are looking for adults who had our lessons in the 90’s. Back in those days, our most popular lesson was called Purple Vegetables. It featured Mike the Purple-topped Turnip, who went on a search for other vegetables of his color, and solved riddles in order to find them. Students then tasted a freshly cooked stew of rutabaga, red cabbage, and purple kale. Does anyone remember that one?
Perhaps we should bring the lesson back in honor of our 20th! Kenisha would not be able to sneak the stew into the lunchroom, but her friends would definitely be talking about it!
Write us at [email protected] with your memories!
Ginger Pearson helps students at L. Harriet Lower School, in Minneapolis, start seedlings.