St. Vrain Healthy Kids: providing a forum for voices and bridges for health

From the very first day of school, each academic year is brimming with birthdays, holidays, and assorted invitations to mark milestones and events with fun and style. That’s a lot of partying. So what might a celebration look like at school? Relaxed routines, maybe, special projects, and tasty treats…like carrots?

Lest skepticism questions the power of produce to produce a true celebratory mood among kids continuously bombarded with mighty junk food marketing, pause and consider. Check in with students, teachers, and parents at Longmont’s Eagle Crest Elementary, or at SVVSD charter school Flagstaff Academy, both of which have held special Harvest Days honoring our favorite crunchy root vegetable. Contact St. Vrain Healthy Kids, a fledgling organization of 200+ members founded by Longmont parents and nutrition advocates Jodie Popma and Christina Edstrom which helped propel such events and is committed to supporting many more like them. They’ll tell you with the utmost confidence, the power of carrots to capture attention goes well beyond a glowing boost of beta-carotene.

St. Vrain Healthy Kids began to put down roots, literally, when founders Popma and Edstrom bonded over CSA crates at Longmont’s Ollin Farms. The two are active members of the LiveWell Longmont Healthy Communities Task Force, and also both serve on Leadership St. Vrain, a program for parents interested in obtaining a foundation in district operations and governance to be more effective participants in school district affairs. They share numerous common interests, not least a passion for promoting good nutrition and lifelong healthy habits among kids, and it wasn’t long before their mutual motivation burgeoned into planning action. “We kept bumping into each other, and our conversations kept circling back to the concept of helping support kids’ health by supporting our schools,” says Edstrom. “This past September we determined, let’s make this happen.”

First thing, Edstrom and Popma met with SVVSD Nutrition Services Director Shelly Allen to share and discuss their prospective mission and hopes for supporting healthy schools.  “There is amazing momentum in our district,” says Popma. “We’re very lucky. But we also know that time is limited, extremely limited, for everyone in education. Our goal is to be collaborative, not complaining. It’s a team effort–we won’t get anywhere by ourselves. Nobody does.” “We want to be a base for many community stakeholders, a liaison for people invested in kids’ health with the district,” Edstrom adds. “We want to be part of the vehicle to enable progress. At the end of the day, everyone wants the same thing as our primary goal for the group: to provide a foundation for our students to achieve academic success. through nutrient-dense food and more.” Allen, whose leadership recently led St. Vrain Valley School District to be honored as the Colorado recipient for the USDA “One in a Melon” award, was receptive to the idea of new collaboration, and the group’s goal of fielding parent and community member input for the benefit of students.

Two years ago, Popma and SVVSD Wellness Coordinator Sarah Harter successfully applied for and received a grant from the Chef Ann Foundation. Combining forces with the Flagstaff Academy PTO and Ollin Farms, Project Produce was born, facilitating fresh fruit access and hands-on learning opportunities for over 900 Flagstaff Academy students throughout the 2015-16 academic year. Flagstaff’s Harvest Days were so successful, the school chose to continue beyond the term of the grant, with support of the PTO. As Popma shared stories of Harvest Days, she and Edstrom vowed to explore possibilities in expanding the concept to other district schools as one of their initial goals for the group.

Popma and Edstrom reached out to Boulder County Farmers Market Executive Director Brian Coppom, who readily offered his support. Next, Popma took Coppom and Edstrom to Flagstaff Academy’s Harvest Day, which was showcasing beets, to observe the impact firsthand. “It was amazing,” Edstrom says. “I half expected kids to run the other direction from beets, but they were going nuts, so proud of themselves for trying what to many was an unusual vegetable, in both raw and cooked form. They just reveled in their beet red lips.”

In January, Eagle Crest Elementary’s Harvest Day Celebration, supported by a triangular partnership between St. Vrain Healthy Kids, SVVSD Nutrition Services and Boulder County Farmers Market, was one everyone involved could (and did) sink their teeth into: a joyful, glowing, crunchy celebration and showcase carrots, which were provided by Ollin Farms and served both raw and prepared.  “It was so heartening to see how excited kids can be about carrots,” says Edstrom. ” Kids were having contests to see who could eat the most, coming back with orange fingertips.”

St. Vrain Healthy Kids, which just recently became public, held an initial meeting in January to kickstart discussion and formulate goals. Those who participated brainstormed ways to help encourage nutritious behaviors among students. “Our true goal, alongside helping to fuel our children well, is to empower them to make healthy choices for themselves for a lifetime,” says Popma. “Of course that extends beyond food, to include physical activity, managing stress, and even use of technology. With healthy choices more available and events like Harvest Days, we get to see peer pressure at its best. Students get in touch with their food, how it was grown, the work and pride that goes into it, how it nourishes our bodies and minds. They are consciously developing positive behaviors that will serve them with a lifetime of benefits.”

Want to be involved? St. Vrain Healthy Kids is looking for parents who would be willing to donate time in support of the, offering their skills such as web design, legal assistance, financial advice and more. Foremost, St. Vrain Healthy Kids is interested in your voice. The next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, February 28, at 5:00 pm at the Longmont Public Library. For more information, or to keep up-to-date, email [email protected], follow St.Vrain Healthy Kids on Instagram, and ‘like’ the group’s Facebook page.
Photo Credit: Christina Edstrom

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