At Rocky Mountain Elementary, Colorado Proud Day, recognized on September 13th, was a twofold celebration. Fresh, local Colorado produce enjoyed a shining spotlight, showcased as part of the school’s first of three annual Harvest Days beginning this year. As 2nd graders filed into the cafeteria for their scheduled lunch period, a somewhat quiet, dutiful attention to lunchtime routines gradually gave way to excitement and exclamations, oohs and ahhs that echoed appreciation for the star of the day: tomatoes.
Originally offered at Flagstaff Academy as part of a grant from the Chef Ann Foundation, SVVSD Nutrition Services, in collaboration with Boulder County Farmers Market, OIlin Farms, and parent-led nutrition advocacy group St. Vrain Healthy Kids Harvest Days are proud to be expanding this year to six schools, and hope to continue broadening their reach. At each Harvest Day event, salad bars are free; in instances where schools do not already have a permanent salad bar in place, Nutrition Services provides a mobile one for the day. Fresh produce is offered, delicious produce is offered in both raw and prepared forms that kids can really sink their teeth into. And as much as the reception at Rocky Mountain Elementary’s inaugural event is an indicator, sink their teeth they surely do.
“I don’t usually like the salad bar,” says 2nd grader Julliana honestly. “I just kind of like that it’s a place to hole my tray for a minute.” Just then, Nutrition Services Director Shelly Allen invitingly encourages the kids approaching the salad bar. “Wait until you try the purple one,” she enthuses, pointing to the bin of bright, cheerful looking tri-colored cherry tomatoes. “It’s AMAZING.” When her turn comes, Julliana accepts a deep serving spoonful of tomatoes, initial skepticism seemingly erased from her face.
As students pack the tables throughout the cafeteria, Nutrition Services Wellness Coordinator Sarah Harter, St. Vrain Healthy Kids co-founder Jodie Popma and volunteer Claudia Perez rotate among them offering raw and prepared tomato treats, as well as “I Love Local” stickers in exchange for tasting. Today’s enticing, colorful cherry tomatoes from Ollin Farms are paired with a prepared version, lightly roasted with a touch of olive oil and fresh herbs atop whole wheat crackers. “You’re going to LOVE this,” Popma promises. “Tastes just like a pizza but it’s better for your body.”
Not everyone looks completely convinced by Popma’s pizza analogy prior to tasting, but one bite and the difference is visible across their faces. “Wow! exclaims student Alexis. “I just got a surprise in my mouth! I love it!”
Upon tasting the raw and prepared tomato offerings, some students reveal it is their first time sampling fresh tomatoes. “It’s great to see kids touching, tasting, using all their senses to explore something new,” says volunteer Perez, whose two children attend Flagstaff Academy. “My kids are used to having fresh and healthy food available all the time. But we can’t assume that is the case for kids, ever. It’s really great that schools are taking steps like this to introduce and reinforce healthy eating.”
Families are provided with Harvest Day recipes in students’ weekly folders. “We really want to encourage consumption of fruits and vegetables,” says Allen. “We also hope, here, to really increase participation. At Rocky Mountain, we offer lunch to all students at no cost. We want to reassure parents that there really is a range of healthy offerings provided that kids will love.”
This year, in addition to Rocky Mountain Elementary School, Sanborn Elementary, Niwot Elementary, and Thunder Valley K-8 will be adding three Harvest Days to their calendars, joining Flagstaff Academy and Eagle Crest Elementary School. Volunteers are always welcome! Contact Jodie Popma at [email protected] for more information. Happy harvest reflections, #HealthyLongmont!