Tasting Tables bring farms to the classroom

Pears trump tomatoes in the school cafeterias, according to OSU Extension Service’s Lauren Kraemer, after the latest tasting table events in Hood River Schools.

“They are liking the pears a lot more than they did the tomatoes,” she said.

The tasting tables are a monthly event sponsored by OSU Extension and the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) education program. Co-sponsors include Gorge Grown Food Network, who helps to access the food, the Hood River County School District, who helps to coordinate with teachers and cafeteria staff, and FISH Food Bank.

The October event was held in conjunction with International Food Day, so the kids at Mid Valley Elementary School had some extra projects in celebration of the day. After tasting the pears, the students were invited to sign pledges to make half of their plate fruits and veggies. Most did; some couldn’t make that promise.

“The younger ones were happy to sign the pledge posters,” Kraemer said. “The older ones were more like, ‘Hmmm, what am I signing up for here?’” she laughed.

“This is a Farm-to-School and Nutrition program that helps to promote a strong message to youth which is: Make Half Your Plate Fruits and Veggies!” Kraemer said. “By encouraging kids to eat more fruits and veggies, and try things that they can easily access in their own community, we hope to influence their and their parents’ behavior.

“Many kids at every tasting table ask what variety of product it is that we are sampling and we are able to tell them which farmer or local store carries the product, so they can ask their parents to buy it for them,” Kraemer said. “The overarching goal is really to get kids to eat healthier and build strong healthy eating habits!

“We will sample a new fruit or vegetable each month,” she said. September featured tomatoes, October, pears, and November will try the kids out on kale.

After skipping over December, the tasting tables will resume in January with potatoes, followed in February with winter squash, March with mushrooms, April with salad greens, May with peas and June with asparagus.

“We recognize that some of our foods will be new for many kids and we hope that is a good thing!” Kraemer said. “By starting with familiar foods like tomatoes and pears we are hoping to work our way up to more new foods like kale, winter squash and mushrooms. These foods will be prepared on site in front of the kids so they can see how to quickly pan-fry or roast the foods.”

At Mid Valley, art teacher Peggy Dills Kelter was approached by Hollis Dunlop, the event coordinator, to do some type of “food” project with her art students in honor of International Food Day. They settled on still-lifes.

“Gorge Grown supplied part of the setup, and local farmers supplied the rest,” Kelter said. “We talked a lot about how all the foods they were drawing were locally grown, and I shared with them that when I was a painter, I always ate my still-life setups after I painted them — they thought that was hilarious! I told them they couldn’t eat our still-lifes (although one teacher took part of mine home one night and made stew — she thought it was giveaway produce!)”

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