Written by: Ben Feldman, FoodCorps Service Member with North Coast Opportunities
When my elementary school students see me on campus, they eagerly yell at me, sometimes all the way across playgrounds and long hallways, “Hi, Mr. Ben!” But when my students see me running errands at the hardware store or pharmacy, they usually seem a bit shy and confused (I suspect many of them think Mr. Ben lives in the school garden and never leaves). I can relate to the feeling: I remember being surprised and intimidated by seeing my teachers out of context. Even seeing my favorite elementary school teachers in a foreign setting felt very strange. But I was delighted when I heard a small voice call my name at the grocery store last month. “Hey, Mr. Ben! Look….” I turned around and looked down to see one of my third grade students smiling at me and holding a bag of peas. She was showing me that her family was buying May’s Harvest of the Month.
Harvest of the Month (HOTM) is a well known and widely used Farm to School strategy. By highlighting a locally available fruit or vegetable each month, HOTM offers an easily recognizable brand identity that unifies efforts to:
- Bolster appreciation for locally grown fruits and vegetables, &
- Increase access to seasonal fruits and vegetables through school meal programs and community-based institutions.
In my work as a FoodCorps service member, HOTM has been the foundation of my efforts to connect students’ experiences in the classroom to their experiences in the cafeteria. Where I work on the South Shore of Lake County, HOTM is also being used outside of schools to provide community members with information that can reinforce their children’s learning. Here are some of the ways this is happening in the Konocti Unified School District (KUSD) and greater South Shore community:
- Prezis & Taste Tests: Organized by the SNAP-Ed program of the Lake County Health Department, each month 4,700 students (over 70%) watch a presentation about a locally grown fruit or vegetable and have the opportunity to taste it. This program has been so successful in the KUSD that it has inspired the district to extend HOTM lessons and adopt nutrition education standards. A pilot of this HOTM extension program will begin in the ‘16-’17 school year.
- School Lunch: Over the past year, the KUSD has been conducting taste tests to give students samples of prepared foods that include HOTM month items (January was absolutely kale-razy). In the coming year, the KUSD will be serving each HOTM item on the lunch menu at least once, sourcing HOTM produce from within Lake County whenever possible.
- Hands-On Lessons: At East Lake and Lower Lake Elementary Schools, garden educators like me teach students how HOTM items are grown, cook HOTM items with students, and lead other activities to increase students appreciation for these seasonal fruits and veggies.
- Backpacks: Organized by North Coast Opportunities Community Action, participating families in the “Backpack Program” at East Lake Elementary, receive a bag of 20-25 pounds of produce each week with recipes and information about the HOTM.
- Food Distributions & Cooking Demo’s: Each week at the Clearlake Food Pantry, low-income residents of Lake County are able to pick up free produce, often including HOTM Produce. At the weekly food pantry in Clearlake, a representative of the Lake Family Resource Center leads cooking demonstrations and offers taste tests of the HOTM.
By using consistent branding to focus on specific seasonal fruits and vegetables, Harvest of the Month creates a common ground where otherwise disconnected programs can easily reinforce and build upon each other’s efforts. Harvest of the Month can be the organizing principle behind a school lunch menu, inspire new nutrition education programs, connect families to their local farmers and can give students a source of pride to show their teacher at the grocery store and say “Hey.”
About the Author: Ben Feldman is the FoodCorps service member for the Konocti Unified School District serving with North Coast Opportunities. He teaches food literacy to K-7 students, hosts taste tests, helps develop new school gardens, and encourages students to try new things. Ben loves hiking and avocados.
North Coast Opportunities, Inc. (NCO) is the Community Action Agency that serves Lake and Mendocino Counties, as well as parts of Humboldt, Sonoma, Del Norte, and Solano Counties. NCO was established in 1968 as part of President Johnson’s War on Poverty, with the mission of assisting low-income and disadvantaged people to become self-reliant. NCO provides a safety net of emergency assistance, employment, and training services for low-income individuals and families. Learn more here.
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.