"Do you know that a kiwi has as much vitamin C as an orange? What does vitamin C do for you? It heals you inside and outside. It is important to get extra vitamin C. Kiwi is a great fruit to try," said Kerry Mihalko, healthy food consultant with Creating Healthy Places to Live, Work and Play (CHP) to a group of Washington Middle School fifth- and sixth-graders. Mrs. Mihalko, along with project coordinator Janet Forbes, visited Washington Middle School to hold a Nutrition Fair.
"I have never had a kiwi before," said Mercedes Soto, Washington Middle School fifth-grader. "It was so good. It sort of tasted like strawberries. They told us they would be offering kiwis at lunch, and I'll definitely take one if I see it in the cafeteria."
The Washington Middle School fifth-grade teachers have worked with CHP, conducting a series of workshops that began with their community garden that is located behind the school. Last spring, they held a gardening workshop that showcased nutrition, composting, recycling and planting. In the fall, the classes did some prior work in the garden with composting and preparing the garden for the winter. The teachers used the last of the fall vegetables, cabbage and potatoes from the community garden in the Washington cafeteria with the help of the food services staff and director, Walt Gaczewski, who made the fifth-graders coleslaw and soup. In Mr. Scalise's class, the students also used the garden's sunflowers for a math unit on estimation and prediction.
Washington Middle School fifth-graders Savannah Liebel, Tyrone Hall and Angely Gonzalez try a kiwi during CHP’s Nutrition Fair.
As a continuation of the garden project, CHP held the Nutrition Fair with eight stations. The Protein Station showcased My Plate and the importance of protein in each student's diet. They also looked at a school lunch menu and found out when beans, which are high in protein, will be served. The Grain Station had students comparing fiber servings on bread labels for white and wheat breads and different types of pastas. The Veggie Station discussed eating vegetables at every meal. In the Fruit Station, teachers talked about fruits being a great source of vitamins and minerals, and students tasted different types of apples. The Dairy Station showcased the different milk choices available and why skim and 1 percent milk have lower amounts of fat and are a better choice. A Taste Test Station let students taste carrots, broccoli and celery and vote on their favorite. The Kiwi Station highlighted a new fruit on the JPS school menu this year and allowed students to taste a kiwi. The final station was a nutrition puzzle.
"It is extremely important for students to learn about healthy eating, as we are living in a fast, hectic-paced world where we may not even be cognizant of where our food comes from and what we are putting into our bodies," said Washington Middle School teacher Andy Scalise. "It was thrilling for us to see the amazed look on the faces of our students in the summer/fall as they harvested the vegetables we had planted in the spring. Students couldn't wait to pull out the carrots from the ground, the beans off the stalk and tomatoes off the vine. Their excited faces told a thousand words as they tasted the fruits of their labor and then rushed home to show their parents. Getting the community involved is a wonderful bonus - we could not have come this far without their help."
Future activities include: planting spring bulbs that were donated from the community along the perimeter of the garden and two more activities with CHP that will continue to focus on making students more aware of their food choices. In May, CHP will help Washington students and teachers to plan their 2013 garden, which will be expanded with raised beds outside the original garden area.
"It's important for the community to see how our students have really taken ownership of this project," said Washington Middle School teacher Deb Szwejbka. "They are protective and proud of the garden, spending hours of their own time in the summer to meet teachers at the garden to weed or till the soil. I think we are instilling a love of gardening in many of them, which can turn out to be something they will continue to do on their own for years to come. That's what it is all about - appreciating that hard work without a lot of money involved can bring about much joy."
CHP is a project funded by the New York State Department of Health. Chautauqua County Health Network was awarded a 4- year grant in the fall of 2010. CHP is creating policy, systems and environmental changes in the community to increase access to healthy foods and opportunities for physical activity.