Since Spring Break has come to a close here in the Palm Springs Unified School District and the kids of the CV are preparing to bend their heads over year-end standardized tests, it seems fitting that we update our community of supporters on what we’ve been up to in the classrooms this year. What do folks who peddle produce have to do with Coachella Valley students? Quite a bit, as it turns out. In fact, this year in the month of March, 406 3rd graders from La Quinta, Palm Desert and Cathedral City learned about the economic, nutritional and environmental benefits of eating local! How this all came about requires a short voyage to the not-so-distant past.
Farmers Markets As Time Machines
When I begin a classroom presentation, I tell the students that visiting a Farmers’ Market is a little bit like stepping into a time machine and traveling back to the turn of the last century, when if you weren’t a farmer you probably at least knew one. In our present age, kids have become exponentially removed from the source of their food, and that’s what concerned our Markets’ founders/general manager, Paul Palodichuk and his wife Giacomina . In 2013 when long-time CFM “superfan” and customer, Cathy Liss, approached them with an interest in donating some of her newly freed up time post-retirement, they knew exactly what to request. Since Cathy was just finishing up an illustrious career shaping the knowledge of several generations at Agua Caliente Elementary, Giacomina didn’t hesitate to ask Cathy to create what she’d been dreaming about since 2008: A nutrition education program. Cathy was uniquely qualified for the job because beyond being a teacher and loving veggies, she had planned, raised support for and built (with the help of families and co-workers) Agua Caliente’s school garden.
A Nutrition Education Curriculum Is Born
Never one to shrink from a challenge, Cathy quickly created a curriculum designed for 3rd grade’s “golden year” and with that in hand, the CFMCV’s applied for and received a grant from the Kaiser Family Foundation to start bringing produce to the classroom and kids to the Markets. In its original form, the Children’s Nutrition Education Program (CNEP) selected one class per school, only in the city of Coachella. We expanded the vision in the fall of 2015 to cover the entire 3rd grade in each school that invited us, all across the CV. Since then we’ve shared the presentation with over 1,000 students including an adapted version with three classes of high schoolers from Desert Hot Springs and Indio High Schools. Our hope is to someday involve these older kids as volunteers in family programs based in the Markets, because everyone knows you often learn even more through teaching and to the younger kids teenagers might as well be rock stars – even if they’re talking about small-farm produce.
Content Is King
In one hour, the CNEP program shows kids how buying locally-grown fruits and veggies impacts the economy in their area (Farmers live in houses and have families? My money can pay to fix their tractor and soccer uniforms? Whoa!) helps them fight illness and grow strong and healthy (Avocados are the official state fruit of California, full of potassium and makes my brain and heart work better? Whaaat?) and can reduce the carbon emissions that cause climate change all over the globe. (Grapes from Chile can travel in 7 different CO2-spewing forms of transportation before reaching my supermarket? OMG!) The most thrilling parts of facilitating these visits is counting the number of times a student displays a “Mind. Blown.” facial expression as they take in a new fact or feels the satisfactory glow from answering a question correctly in front of their peers. Hearing a classroom of 25 kids scream like a stadium full of football fans when I ask “Who’s ready to try fresh fruits and veggies from the Farmers’ Market?” is a close second. After the sample bags are distributed – sunflower microgreens being the surprise favorite – the kids get a reminder to bring their coupon (good for a $5.00 Market Buck) and “market-work” page (good for a smoothie) to the CFM’s.
Who’s Ready To Learn?
In short, it’s a win-win for everyone involved. To anyone who says you can’t hold the attention span of kids today longer than a minute and a half, I have three words: Content, content, content. (And to a somewhat lesser extent: novelty, delivery and snacks.) Do you know a Coachella Valley school that would benefit from a CNEP visit in the upcoming 2017-2018 school year? Talk to your site coordinator or principal, and share this post. We’re already booking for the fall…