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The following post was submitted by Sierra Harvest FoodCorps Service Member Elizabeth Lane:

In rural Nevada County California Sierra Harvest works in local schools to educate, inspire and connect local families to fresh, local, seasonal food. As a Nevada County native, I am excited about this important work in the schools I grew up in.

In celebration of National Farm to School Week and National Food Day, Sierra Harvest organized Tasting Week in 12 Nevada County schools. Building on Sierra Harvest's Farm to School program in which each school is partnered with a local farm, I supported Rachelle Zorne, an amazing organizer and dedicated Sierra Harvest volunteer, in connecting each school with a local chef to engage students in a tasting of local, fresh, seasonal food. Ingredients were purchased from the school's farm partner as much as possible. Each guest chef donated their time to cook up farm-fresh produce, creating an opportunity for students to experience new flavors and learn how to make healthy eating choices. From winter greens, to beet kvas, to nutmilks, students all over the county experienced something new. Some students were licking their plates, while others asked for the recipe to share with their parents.

My farming and cooking background came in handy at Ready Springs, a K-8 school (that I attended from Kindergarden through second grade) with a free and reduced lunch rate of nearly 74%. Kindergarden and first graders became excited to eat the “brother/sister” plant of broccoli in a Kale Salad, garnished with soaked sunflower seeds. A seventh grader said, “Wow! This looks delicious, I can't wait to try it!” One kindergartner actually broke into tears when his teacher told him he couldn't save his salad to share with his mom after school—poor guy. Of the four classes that participated in the tasting, about ¾ of each class raised their hand when I asked how many of them liked the salad, the same proportion of the class that had never tried kale before. When I asked students if they would like a recipe to take home to their parents, nearly all of them wanted the recipe. In addition to talking about kale and its relationship to broccoli, we also talked about how seeds use the digestive systems of animals to carry them to a new place, and how soaking and grinding seeds allow us to access the nutrients in seeds, otherwise prepared for the parent plant's young.

In a county where over 20% of residents are overweight or obese and 20% of residents are food insecure, schools are a key setting for health strategies to lower and prevent obesity. By the best estimates about 47% of residents will have diabetes within a decade. Children spend 35% of their time at school, and some children consume 50% of their daily calories at school. FoodCorps works to reverse these trends by partnering with local organizations like Sierra Harvest, working together to create robust relationships between students and the food they consume.

As a member of a national movement to connect kids to real food that supports their overall health, I am happy to report that here in Nevada County, Tasting Week was a smashing success! Over 45 K-8th grade classes participated in 12 schools. Thanks to the work of Sierra Harvest and my role as a FoodCorps Service Member, children all over the country are learning about where their food comes from, and how the foods they eat can help them grow up healthy. What's next on the list? How about getting local food into local cafeterias. Stay tuned!

Kale Salad Recipe

  • 1 head kale, shredded/chopped finely (whichever kind you can get from a local farmer)
  • 1 cup tomato, chopped (heirloom variety from a local farm)
  • 1/2 avocado (It is important to talk/think about how far away Avocados come from if they do not grow near you. If they are not in season, or grow far from you, substitute cucumber, or other seasonal vegetable)
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • Juice from 1/2 lemon
  • Celtic, Himalayan or sea salt, to taste (1/4 t)
  • 1/4 cup sunflower seeds soaked in sea salt water overnight (the salt water should taste as salty as the water of the ocean)--feel free to substitute walnuts or almonds soaked in the same manner, or if you have pine trees, try harvesting and roasting your own pine nuts.
  • 1sp local honey (optional, otherwise add raisins or your other favorite dried fruit without sulfites or sugar added)

Combine kale, tomatoes and lemon juice, let sit over night. The acid from the tomatoes and lemon juice marinate the kale and make it tastier and easier to digest without cooking. Another option is to add the lemon juice to the kale (the day of) and mush with hands which creates a marinated/wilting affect on the kale (add tomatoes after mushing). Add honey or raisins, soaked and drained sunflower seeds, olive oil and avocado/cucumber and toss. Salt to taste. (You may not need salt at all since you soaked your sunflower seeds in salt water.)

Elizabeth Lane currently serves as a FoodCorps service member in her home town community. FoodCorps is a nationwide team of leaders that connects kids to real food and helps them grow up healthy. This happens through a network of local partner organizations that host FoodCorps service members in limited-resource communities for one year. Service members teach kids about what healthy food is and where it comes from, build and tend school gardens, and bring high-quality local food into public school cafeterias.

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