Farm to School programs vary widely among school districts, cities, and counties, but in our experience, the one thing they all share is the presence of a local food champion. Maybe that person is a cafeteria worker who pushes for more scratch cooking, or a nutrition director who demands more fresh produce. In the case of Burnley-Moran Elementary School, it’s the Parent Teacher Organization.
This year, the Burnley-Moran PTO launched “Fresh Talk Snacks,” a program headed up by local parent Kate Bennis. Designed to expose students to a wide variety of fresh, local fruits and vegetables, the program is a great example of stakeholders coming together to share the costs (and the rewards) of better school food.
Today, we’re posting a recent conversation we had with Kate about this program, in hopes that it might inspire some champions in your school!
1. Hi Kate! Would you describe the program you helped develop at Burnley Moran? How did the idea come about and how does it work?
This year the Burnley-Moran PTO created a program called Fresh Talk Snacks, in collaboration with the Charlottesville City Schools, the Burnley-Moran kitchen, and Local Food Hub. We wanted to find a way for every child to have the opportunity to taste and experience new fruits and vegetables and awaken their tastebuds to the most vital and healthy foods.
Once a week the Burnley-Moran kitchen staff prepare the fruit or veggie. PTO volunteers then deliver the snack to all 375 students at the school. The cost of the snack is split between the PTO and Nutrition Services.
What makes Fresh Talk Snacks different is that I send along a trivia question about that week’s mystery fruit or veggie to be included in the morning announcements. This primes the kids and gets them guessing about that day’s choice. Then, each classroom receives a bowl of the same fresh, local, seasonal fruit or vegetable so that each child gets a taste. We ask that the children observe, smell, and taste each offering.
2. What kind of snack items have you served to the kids? Any that are particular favorites?
The first week were the ripest, most delicious white peaches I have ever had. Some kids wouldn’t eat them because they had never seen the red part around the pit. More education needed! Other favorites were the tricolored cherry tomatoes, unpeeled carrots, and red and yellow sweet peppers.
3. What kind of response have you gotten (from Nutrition Services, students, teachers, and parents)?
This program clearly makes more work for the kitchen staff who help prep every Thursday, and the teachers who have the added task of serving the kids and sending back the bowls and tongs. Yet I have not had one complaint, only thanks! As I walk through the halls, wheeling the bowl-laden, squeaky aluminum cart, the kids follow along trying to peek in and see if they guessed the trivia question correctly! It’s very exciting.
4. What do you tell parents and others who want to get involved in improving school lunch?
Exposure and education. Lisa from Local Food Hub sent fresh, local slipskin grapes with seeds one week. So as I dropped off the bowls, I said, “Remember, you can eat the seeds!” Most of the kids have never seen a grape with seeds. Now that Burnley-Moran has a thriving garden program, the kids will have the chance to pull a real carrot out of the earth and learn that carrots do not come peeled and in small plastic bags.
5. How do you incorporate local food into your own day-to-day life?
We love the farmer’s markets on saturdays and at Meade Park. Also, my husband is an avid gardener so we have an urban garden still generating tomatoes, lettuce, kale, figs, and raspberries.
6. Thank you, Kate! As we conclude, would you share some of your favorite trivia questions?
- The Greek poet Homer called these, “The Gift of the Gods,” and back in the 1800s they were considered so rare and special that people would pay 20.00 for ONE! This particular kind is sometimes mistaken for an apple, but it is actually a…?
- The Romans took these with them as they conquered many countries in Europe, spreading them throughout the European continent. They, like Peaches, are related to the rose. They can be red, golden, black and purple. They are made up of many tiny bead-like fruits called “drupelets” clustered around a core. Each drupelet contains one seed.
- Scientists call this a fruit. Cooks call it a vegetable. We call them by many names: Sun Gold, Sweet 100, Black Cherry, and Snow White.