“My favorite part was when you told the story about the seed of the sun and all those other stories in that day.”    – 3rd grader from Horace Mann Elementary

As the newest and youngest member of our small staff, I have learned a lot over the past six months of teaching with Midwest Food Connection. As they say, to teach is to learn twice. When preparing for lessons, researching the answers to students’ clever questions, or tasting MFC recipes, I have learned about the difference between sweet potatoes and yams, how delicious rutabaga and leeks taste together, the effects of seaweed on reducing stress, and the history of grains and beans being discovered and cooked together. Most exciting to me, however, has been learning and telling stories from American Indian traditions and other sources, which illuminate the history of a food and captivate little minds.

I have loved witnessing the power of storytelling. When my storytelling necklace goes on, a group of squirrely kids can transform into a calm and engaged audience. And as I have told the Gifts of Grain story or How the Hidatsa Came to Know Corn, I am simultaneously focused on the delivery and observing the class take it in. I see their minds travel to another time. I see them imagine solutions to challenges the characters face. I hear them wonder if these tales could be true. My favorite moment so far? Watching the 1st graders at EXPO voluntarily put their ears to the ground to hear the thunder of buffalo hooves as I
modeled how the Hidatsa searched for the buffalo.

Children show an innate desire to know about the past and the people from whom they come. And food ties these lineages together. In our winter series of lessons, Gifts from Many Cultures, we explore the wealth of foods that have come to our country with immigrant populations. When learning the stories of how the potato came from Ireland, the kiwi from New Zealand, teff from East Africa, or the star fruit from Indonesia, kids see how food literally brings us together.

As one third grader from Horace Mann wrote to me, “I loved when you would put on your storytelling necklace and would tell a really good story.” The practice of listening to stories to learn about the world is old, and for that reason I think, ingrained in us. It is in our bones to hear a narrative unfold. What else could inspire kids to listen to a linoleum floor for the sound of imaginary bison hooves? And what’s more, to hear them?

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