Harvest of the Month (HOTM) is one of the most well-known and utilized strategies in the Farm to School Movement. Read through this account from Shana Wright, HOTM Project Manager at UC San Diego, to hear how San Diego is deepening the impact of the program with an exciting pilot project!
It isn’t often there is a true connection between the cafeteria and the classroom.
However, the Harvest of the Month in the Classroom program strives to do just that. Through connecting what students learn in the classroom to what they are eating in the cafeteria, that much needed connection is formed.
The Harvest of the Month in the Classroom pilot program in San Diego County is facilitated by UC San Diego Center for Community Health’s School Wellness Program, with funding from the state’s Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Branch (NEOPB), through the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency and its Live Well San Diego initiative.
The pilot for the program took place at three schools in San Diego County, Foothill Oak Elementary in the Vista Unified School District and Balboa and Audubon Elementary in the San Diego Unified School District.
Bringing local produce into the classroom and to the cafeteria: a link is born
Each school district already featured locally grown produce on their salad bars, but the school staff was excited to develop an innovative method to bring the produce directly into the K-5 classrooms for their students. In San Diego Unified, the Harvest of the Month produce item was packed into the Breakfast in the Classroom bags on the first Wednesday of the month for delivery to each classroom, while in Vista the onsite food service staff bagged the Harvest of the Month produce based on class size to be picked up in the cafeteria by the teachers or student representative on the first Thursday of each month.
Students in grades K-5 participated in Harvest of the Month taste tests in their classrooms at the beginning of each month. Before each taste test, students recite a pledge to their health, and commit to trying the new fruit or vegetable. Teachers at Audubon elementary mentioned the taste tests supported a sense of community within their classrooms as students would encourage each other to try the new fruit or vegetable each month. Each taste test was accompanied with a workbook lesson aligned with standards promoting healthy lifestyle habits, such as eating healthy, active living, reduced consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, and reading food labels, just to name a few.
Teachers were also given other supplemental materials to accompany the lessons. Materials such as the Harvest of the Month newsletter, with fun facts, information and activities surrounding the Harvest of the Month produce items, and the Get Fit activities to get the students moving in their classrooms are just a couple of activities things that were sent to teachers each month.
San Diego Unified developed farmer videos to take students on a virtual field trip to meet the farmer (ed. note: developed by FoodCorps service member Mary Tyranski!), and see the origins of the produce they tasted. Laurie Bergener, a third grade teacher from Balboa Elementary states, “The kids love meeting the farmer and learning where the produce they are tasting was grown!” Watch an example farm tour video here. These are amazing! The Harvest of the Month item was then featured on the salad bar once a week for the rest of the month, offering students the opportunity to eat more of the locally grown produce they had tasted in their classroom.
Let’s Hear it for Radishes!
In March 2014, students tasted Easter Egg Radishes and enjoyed the radishes so much they disappeared from the salad bar before the fourth and fifth graders got to lunch.
When asked how the Harvest of the Month in the Classroom program changed the atmosphere in the lunch room for food service staff, Foothill Oak food-service lead Dania Velarde said it was positive.
“Kids are going to the salad bar more, and there is less pressure on food service staff,” Velarde said. “They don’t have to stand over the students and persuade them to take fruit or vegetables. They are more self-inclined to do so. It’s already being sold to them in the classroom.”
Each month teachers provide feedback on the Harvest of the Month activities they completed with their classes and many participated in a focus group at the end to provide feedback about the program.
In their feedback, teachers said they enjoyed teaching students where their food came from, and what it looked like in its whole form – not from a can or cut up in pieces. Teachers said the program created awareness around students eating healthier, and becoming advocates for certain choices when parents go shopping. They also said they felt a stronger connection with food staff. Some teachers even utilized parent volunteers to help with the taste tests.
“The experience is great because almost my entire class tried it, and they now know more about local farms,” said a teacher at Balboa Elementary. “It’s exciting for all of us to try the new harvest of the month.”
School principals were also pleased with results.
“My students benefitted from the Harvest of the Month in the Classroom program by learning that they have more choices,” said Erin English, school principal at Foothill Oak Elementary. “They can try a new produce item at school and then tell their parents about it. It broadens their understanding of the food choices available to them.”
The Harvest of the Month in the Classroom Program also earned media attention, and was featured on Cox Channel 4’s Salute to Education, highlighting Audubon elementary in San Diego Unified. The video describing the process of how the produce gets from the farm to the cafeteria to the classroom can be seen on YouTube at this link.
UC San Diego is looking forward to continuing the Harvest of the Month in the Classroom program at these three schools while expanding the program to other interested schools and school districts in San Diego County.