Written by: Sarah Stowell, FoodCorps Service Member with North Coast Opportunities
Using a blender bicycle to make 150-300 smoothies a day with elementary students has become a regular occurrence during my service term. It has been a sure fire way to introduce kale, spinach, or other “super greens” to the pickiest of eaters. I’ve gotten used to students as young as kindergarten or as old as 8th grade coming up to me after trying their smoothie, which consists of at least 50% super greens, and telling me that they didn’t think they liked kale or spinach or turnip greens and that now they are going to make super green smoothies at home with their families. It is simple really: a cup of frozen berries, a little apple juice or orange juice, 3-4 cups of super greens, and a hoard of happy kids excited to peddle the blender bike and ring its bell.
There is one day of smoothie making craziness that stands out from the rest, the day my high schoolers made smoothies at the Hillside Farm. It was a day of pride and evidence of a successful comeback! The students in the agriculture class at Ukiah High School have been working to rebuild their school farm after it was destroyed in a fire several years ago. So during our crazy day of smoothie making we used around 30 pounds of kale the students had grown. This was a first for the farm! Before the fire, most of the food grown at the school farm was sold through a CSA to the faculty and staff of the school and was rarely eaten by the students. In fact the reason we were making the smoothies was a celebration of the hard work of the students and of our pending sales to the school cafeteria.
This school year we sold over 100 pounds of student grown produce to the cafeteria which was then served throughout the Ukiah Unified School District. One of the students who I worked with in growing the produce told me how excited she was to have her younger sister at a middle school across town eating the food she had helped grow. When I shared with the students at other schools where the food had come from, I received a lot of feedback that they couldn’t wait to become high schoolers and help grow food for the school lunches!
We’ve done a lot more then grow produce out of the two 50 foot hoop houses at the Hillside Farm this year: there is a 4 acre vineyard that the students sell the grapes from, 3 acres of hillside that the students have been terracing and prepping to plant for fall crops, and an aquaponics system the size of a 3 car garage we are working on finishing and getting into production. To top it off we’ve built wonderful relationships with community members who support the Hillside Farm including the new Food Service Director for the school district who is finishing his first year after making the transition from being a local chef and restaurant owner. He has expressed his excitement to buy organic salad greens from the Hillside Farm that the students will grow in the aquaponics system that was completed at the end of July. He has explained that the greens will be served in the salad bars at all of the schools in this district!
All of our success has meant the world to me, but to take it even further the Ukiah High School FFA Chapter was so sweet to award me an “Appreciation Award” and to make me an honorary member of their chapter as a thank you for the support I’ve given them this year. I think they can tell I’ll be sticking around and continuing to help them even as I move on from my year of service.
About the Author: Sarah Stowell grew up being a part of the University California Cooperative Extension’s 4H programs. After many years of beekeeping, electronics, and sewing with her local 4H chapter, Sarah pursued a B.S. in Sustainable Agriculture and Food Systems at the University of California, Davis. Now as a FoodCorps Service Member at the Gardens Project with North Coast Opportunities in Ukiah, CA, she is co-leading the restructuring of an aquaponics system at a nearby high school and leading garden-based lessons. Read on to learn about Sarah’s great success stories from this year after all of those bike-blended smoothies.
North Coast Opportunities (NCO) is a private nonprofit corporation focused on serving Lake and Mendocino Counties, as well as Del Norte, Humboldt, Napa, Solano and Sonoma Counties. To find out more about their programs as a Community Action Agency, please visit their website.
FoodCorps is a nationwide team of AmeriCorps leaders who connect kids to real food and help them grow up healthy. To find out more, please visit their website.