Starting with Carrots

Knowing where to begin can be overwhelming. When teaching educators about creating food committees, (who create the nutrition policy), I always tell them to start with Carrots. That is the book Do Carrots Make You See Better? (Appleton, McCrea, Patterson). Chapter 5 will get you started and lead you through the basic process; they even provide a management process for food issues in early childhood services that is so great, I wish I had written it myself.

Okay, so you know about carrots—now we need to talk about the carrot seeds. Where do you find the “seeds” that will grow into the members of your committee? This group should include the chef in charge of your food program—or the person who is responsible for writing and executing the menus. It should also include parents, teachers, a garden educator, a culinary arts educator, administrators, farmers, produce vendors, and children (yes! I mean young children) because they often have really good ideas that we should include in the creative process.


Why Create a Food Committee?

We want children to understand that their broccoli is grown by the farmer in his field at the foot of the Dumbarton Bridge, and that the fog rolls in to keep it cool and happy. We can make the field trip to the farm so the young child can see the broccoli growing in the field. The chef for the food program understands the need to serve green vegetables as a part of the rainbow of food that is offered to her small charges—chef menus it, purchases it, and admires it knowing that in less than 24 hours it has been picked and shipped to her kitchen. The chef then preps, washes and steams it in batches so that it will be perfect for the children. The chef believes it is important to put the name of the farmer, Joe Perry, who grew the broccoli on the menu. Naming the farmer helps the centers faculty and families to talk about the origins of the broccoli with their children.

Another way for the children to interact with the origins of this food is to grow broccoli in the school garden at the same time that it appears on the menu. In the school garden the broccoli grows big and strong and is close to being harvested. The teachers go with their children to the garden to admire the broccoli—plucking a perfect floret to be gobbled up in the garden by the children. The parents go to the farm stand one Sunday afternoon with their children; meet Joe’s son, Doug, and purchase the broccoli that they prepare for dinner that evening with their children.

None of this happens by accident. This happens because a group of dedicated people have come together to create this experience for children. This is why we create a food committee—it brings this creative process together.


The Home-Farm-School Connection

For the next few weeks my blog entries will explore ways to take action and connect children to the farmers who grow our food. It is my hope that you will join in and share your stories and experiences with me. Below is the model that I have shared with educators and farmers that has grown out of the work I have done as a chef educator. I have always believed in the power of the grass roots movement. What do you think might happen if every preschool hung up a sign that said “Farmer Wanted” and every farmer at a farmers market hung up a sign that said “Preschool Wanted”? Together we could change the way our children eat!

What does this model give to children?
• Gives the life skill of nutrient-dense eating to help children live healthier lives.
• Teaches seasonal eating.
• Creates food and taste memories: local is fresher, has a longer time to ripen & just tastes better.
• Learning of regional foods traditions.
• Using Socially Responsible Produce Vendors, Farmers Markets, CSA & Farm Stands connects all of us to the people who grow our food. It puts a face on our food.
• Firsthand knowledge of our food creates powerful links to the farmers and their families, and gives us wonderful stories to tell.


Creating Food Pedagogy in Early Care and Education

Do we give a child a vegetable, or do we teach them how to grow and cook the vegetable?

I believe food programs must be integrated into the school day. We must move away from believing that the food programs are simply an add-on that brings food to the children in our care. Children need to understand gardens and farms, and they need to understand how to transform ingredients into flavorful meals. Cooking and growing food are supporting cultural processes that help children understand healthy eating. We need to widen the circle and invite the farmers into the classroom, go out to the garden and dig in the dirt and reach out to chefs to help our children and faculty to join each other at the cutting board. Classroom environments need dishes and dish washing. These should be self service areas that are facilitated by faculty and managed by children. Young children need compost buckets and worms to understand the difference between landfill and food for our soil. For the youngest children we need to model until they are able to set the table and wash the dishes including them in the processes as they grow into them. The farmers, the self service areas in classrooms and the landfill and composting are foundation bricks in my own food pedagogy.

Why do I believe you need these bricks in your early care and education program? “Spaces are typically created with some kind of purpose or intention, whether or not this is evident. Every environment implies a set of values or beliefs about the people who use a space and the activities that take place there.” (Curtis and Carter, Designs for Living and Learning, pg. 13) As educators we need to examine the environments we are creating to understand what we are doing that makes one in four of the children in our care obese. We need to ask, why is it if you are one of our Black, Hispanic or American Indian students you have a one in two chance of becoming obese? By thoughtfully planning food programs for young children we have the power to end childhood obesity.


Corn Tortillas: From Garden to Table

In early care and education we need to encourage food construction and deconstruction by children.

As children participate in making tortillas they begin to understand that tortillas don’t just show up on the grocery store shelf as part of their taco. They begin to understand that there is a process of mixing and transforming ingredients that creates the food they eat.

As they eat their burrito, they learn that it is made up of many parts. When little hands unroll that tortilla and the filling falls out, they can learn about color; black beans are glossy black, the corn is yellow and the zucchini is green.

When children also plant, nurture, harvest and see these foods growing in their garden, they further discover and interact with the origins of their food.