Guest post by Brittany Wager, Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project
Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project serves as the Southeast Regional Lead Agency for the National Farm to School Network. Each of our regional lead agencies will be contributing blog posts during Farm to School Month.
One by one, preschool students at Fairview Head Start in Jackson County, North Carolina removed handfuls of pumpkin seeds and examined them carefully before washing them in bowls of water and preparing them to roast.
Christina Shupe, the leader for the activity, answered their inquiries about the different varieties of local pumpkins she had brought to their school that day. “It looks like a spider web in there,” one student commented when she looked down into the pumpkin. “Where’s the spider?”
Christina is a junior at Western Carolina University’s Nutrition and Dietetics Program, and is in her second year of involvement with ASAP’s Growing Minds @ University project. The experiences at the "learning lab" sites and the training offered by ASAP builds the capacity of future nutrition professionals like Christina, as well as future teachers and health professionals, to incorporate local food and farm based experiences in their work.
The lesson began with students passing around a "mystery bag" containing miniature winter squash. They reached inside the bag, felt the items inside, and offered up guesses as to what it contained. “I think it’s a bird,” one student guessed. Christina opened the bag and explained to the students what was inside, and they had an additional opportunity to smell and touch the squash.
“After that we looked at the different varieties of local pumpkins I had brought with me,” said Christina. “The students voted as to which one they wanted to open up and look inside.”
After inspecting the inside of the pumpkin, they each reached in and got a handful of seeds, rinsed off the goo in water, and put them on wax paper to bake. “The kids seemed to really enjoy washing off the goo, they were very careful and deliberate about it and were really engaged in the activity,” Christina said. “And of course they wanted to know when they could eat the seeds!”
Experiences like these are having a positive impact on Head Start and elementary students, their families and the university students. In recent family surveys, 74 percent of respondents indicated that their child’s experiences with the project have had a positive impact on how their family eats and thinks about food. The teachers of the project’s elementary and Head Start schools report a substantial change in children’s willingness to try new foods and to eat healthy snacks and lunches. The teachers also report that the multi-faceted approach of farm to school benefits the children academically, nutritionally and socially.
Christina sees the value in the way the project is preparing her to be a leader in her career. “As a future dietitian I hope to continually work to educate all people on healthy and sustainable foods, as well as to provide people of all ages positive experiences with local and healthy produce.”
If you’d like to lead a pumpkin exploration activity with young children, check out the lesson plan Christina used on ASAP’s Growing Minds Farm to School Program website.