By Alise Echele, RDN
Healthy Schools Project Coordinator
Food and Nutrition Services, Ventura Unified School District (VUSD)
Locally grown broccoli, purple cauliflower, and cheddar orange cauliflower flooded 250 classrooms in thirteen Ventura Unified schools this March. As 4,300 students used their five senses to explore these colorful brassica plants, produced by Deardorff Family Farm, hands were enthusiastically raised to share creative adjectives that described their tasting experiences. These monthly tasting lessons support youth as they develop into adventurous eaters of good, whole food. The journey of this food from farm to school is highlighted along with the hard work and dedication from farmers and harvesters, who labor on the farms in order to feed us. Alice Waters, chef and restaurateur, eloquently reminds us, “Food is precious—and so are the people who produce it.” This cultivation of gratitude is woven into each tasting lesson, which extends from the soil to the farm team to the school foodservice staff, who prepare these fresh fruits and vegetables daily for the Farm to School salad bars.
Harvest of the Month is one of many program components coordinated by VUSD’s Healthy Schools Project. Housed within the district’s Food and Nutrition Services department, this education arm of the Farm to School program seeks to support students in developing a healthy relationship with locally grown and sustainably raised food through hands-on, standards-aligned nutrition, cooking, agricultural, and garden-based education. Nutrition Specialists provide resources, technical assistance, and professional development to support educators in implementing this Common Core-aligned education in school and after-school programs.
Studies show that youth who are engaged in growing and preparing food become adventurous eaters and increase fruit and vegetable consumption. Our local students are no exception. Following the March broccoli tasting experience, students participated in hands-on cooking classes. The Great Greens Salad with Tangy Avocado Dressing was devoured by students after practicing their budding culinary skills. Students even harvested spring vegetables from their flourishing school gardens to incorporate into the recipe. This celebration of local food, farming, and the culinary arts didn’t end there. Each month the highlighted recipe and local produce item, along with the grower, is featured on lunch menus and Farm to School salad bars.
Research strongly links youth academic success with health. The mission at Ventura Unified is to educate all students in safe, healthy, and high performing schools. For the past fifteen years, the Healthy School Project has evolved into an instrumental program, among many others, that actively lives into this mission, so that youth can grow into healthy, active, and successful adults.
During the 11th annual Summerfest, a free healthy living event, VUSD looks forward to celebrating all of the programs, community partner organizations, and people who support healthy school and community environments. VUSD is a dedicated Summerfest partner along with the Ventura Education Partnership and the City of Ventura. Mark your calendar for May 21 and be sure to stop by the Demonstration Garden to meet Healthy Schools Project educators, taste delicious farm fresh produce, and tour the outdoor garden classroom. For more information about the VUSD Healthy Schools Project, contact 641-5000 ext. 1310.