Written by: Daiana Baez, FoodCorps Service Member with CAFF and Life Lab
The splash of rocks skipping, the skidding of tires, the sweet whispers of grasshoppers, and the silent buzz of bees are all familiar noises connected with summer. However, perhaps much louder, is the sound of a collective hunger that stirs all season long. The USDA has estimated that 30.3 million children depend on the National School Lunch Program to ease their hunger aches during the school year. Unfortunately, as soon as the last bell rings, only 2.6 million children are fortunate enough to find facilities providing food assistance during the summer. But with the lack of resources, and overwhelming amount of challenges nutrition services facilities face in low-resource, low-income communities, the privilege of health dilutes in a sea of calories and sugar. This summer, nonetheless, food fighters in Pajaro Valley Unified School District together worked to create a nutrition program that reached five different schools, and almost every single student at: Starlight Elementary, Ohlone Elementary, Landmark Elementary, Freedom Elementary, and Cesar Chavez Middle School.
To provide PVUSD summer school students with not just calories, but a sample of health, the district’s Teach Project (supported by Grind Out Hunger) provided teams of nutrition educators with enough resources for each of their students to eat a rainbow. With these resources, teams – like myself and my co-teacher, Christina Powell – were able to lead engaging lessons that opened young minds and gave students an opportunity to cook and eat fruits and vegetables in exciting ways. With Teach Project, the school I served and Grind out Hunger’s support, I spent my summer perking students’ curiosity about vegetables, exposing them to wholesome meals, and motivating them to make healthy choices. Although five teams of nutrition educators lack the capacity to reach all 30.3 million free and reduced-lunch students, we are proof that passionate, committed players can exhilarate students into participating in the growing and eating of healthy foods.
In gardens there are no pieces of kale that turn into candy bars when you kiss them, or heirloom carrots that transform into takis upon first bite. To inspire healthy bites at Starlight elementary, I used a two-station rotation system of chefs & scientists or nutritionists during each lesson. Enthusiasm sparked in our first week with a six-plant-part lesson during which I turned volunteers into silly plants, and had students experiment with flavor as they made 6-plant-part burritos.
Throughout our second week, classes were introduced to the concept of phytonutrients and discovered they could eat their superpowers one veggie at a time. Then, to encourage them to bring their love for health home, students were given a chance to cut vegetables for our meal and a bowl of rice to create their own rainbow rice bowls. The third week’s focus was sugar. Soon after learning the American Heart Association’s recommended level of daily sugar intake, classes were genuinely eager to learn how to read nutrition labels and protect their hearts. The week was a blast filled with nutrition label challenges, making agua frescas and preparing garden-made potato chips for future classes. After three wonderful weeks, I decided to tie everything together in our last lessons with a lesson on Life Lab’s Power Plate. Using their knowledge and skills from the previous weeks, students participated in making a class meal: rainbow pasta bowls for superkids! It was during this last week, that I was able to see how just three weeks in a garden could excite kids to take healthier bites. There is hope for fuller bellies in the future as food fighters share their success stories and students begin to demand health over sugar.
About the author Daiana Baez spent the last year serving as a FoodCorps Service Member. In Watsonville, you can find Daiana encouraging kids to experiment with new foods and do double-dog daring students to each a handful of bell peppers. As a daughter of a once migrant farm worker, she enjoys getting kids to think critically about our world food system and having students cheers to the farmers who grow and pick our food. What she has enjoyed most about her term serving is writing up exciting lessons, that engage even the pickiest of eaters.