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Our Voices: FoodCorps: A Day in the LifePrint

Food & Farming | January 17, 2012 | By Kirsten Gerbatsch

This is part of a continuing series about FoodCorps in northwest Lower Michigan, which is working with MLUI, SEEDS, MSU Extension and other area organizations to help schools purchase and serve healthy, locally grown food; build school garden programs; and connect education to nutrition, healthy eating, and a celebration of local farms.

Kirsten Gerbatsch is a FoodCorps service member seeking to connect Northern Michigan kids to healthy, locally-grown foods.

If you’re looking for the opposite of a 9-5 “office job,” then this is it. I have never felt so committed to a “job,” and in a way, my FoodCorps position is not just a “job” or a “service position.” It’s a way of life and a commitment to improve the future health of our country’s children, our environment, agriculture, education system, and food system. I wear several different hats and pairs of boots most days, and I work with everyone from students, food service staff, and teachers to farmers, Master Gardeners, chefs, non-profit organizations, and local policy makers.

Every single day is different but here’s a snapshot of what I do in a typical day: At 7:30 in the morning I head to one of the two schools I serve in: Suttons Bay High School. When I arrive at the school I stop by the kitchen and say “Good Morning!” to Kirt and Julie, the food service staff, and chat for a little bit before heading down the hallway to meet with the Biology teacher. Kirt and I have been talking about sourcing local vegetables – like carrots, cabbage, and onions — for next month’s lunches. In the Bio classroom, Julie and I review the nutrition lesson from yesterday, and then I set up cooking ingredients and materials for later that afternoon.

The previous day I taught in her AP Biology class about real life connections between macromolecules and food nutrition (protein, carbohydrates, and lipids), starting with how to read and comprehend a Nutrition Facts label. Those kids had a lot to learn when it came to food! When I leave the science classroom, I head over to Mrs. Smith’s classroom to talk about collaborating on a few middle school Life Skills class visits. She agrees that smart food choices and knowledge about food and nutrition are essential “life skills,” but she’s never before integrated those subjects into her curriculum. We talk about how to do this, and I leave feeling excited about partnering with her next month on four grocery store “scavenger hunts” for those students to learn more about their local food system; reading food labels; understanding ingredient lists; and navigating a grocery store.

At 9 o’clock I walk over to the elementary school, located on the same campus as the high school. I meet Daniel, my FoodCorps partner up here in Northwest Michigan, and Jill, the head food service staff in the elementary school kitchen. We are preparing delicata squash for a lunchroom taste testing activity. It’s great to meet Jill for the first time. She is interested in introducing vegetables like squash, kale, and beets to the regular lunch menu, but doesn’t have the time or workforce to help her do that. That’s where Daniel and I come in. We share the kitchen with Jill and other food service staff, demonstrate how to simply prepare squash “fries” making three different kinds. When all the squash is in the convection oven, we set up a table in the cafeteria for our taste testing. When 10:55 rolls around, the youngest children start skipping and shuffling into the lunchroom. Between the first wave of students and the last, Daniel and I pass out samples of different squash “fries:” garlicky, cinnamon, and plain. We let the kids try the different flavors and vote on them: “Tried it,” “Like it,” and “Love it—and want it for lunch!” They also draw, write comments, and hang out with us by the taste testing table. These lunchroom tastings of new veggies is one of my favorite activities. When lunch at the elementary school is over, I walk back to the high school to cook with the Biology class. Today we are doing a cooking lab to demonstrate those three macromolecules all in one delicious and nutritious meal. We make a dish called Three Sisters—corn, squash, and beans. I chose this recipe because of its direct connection to the biology lesson, as well as its relevance to the local Native American community in Leelanau County. Although most of the students are pretty skeptical about how this dish will taste, they all want to help chop onions, cut up the butternut squash, and measure the herbs. And when it’s ready to eat, a few brave souls try it—and like it! Peer pressure gets the best of the rest of them and before I know it, more and more high school kids are chowing down on corn, beans, and squash. It’s too good to be true.

By the end of the school day, I am undoubtedly exhausted. Exhausted, content, and already starting to think about tomorrow. While I’m mentally reliving my day, I can’t help but smile. I wonder how many children tried squash today for the first time, and I wonder how many high school students will pay a little more attention to food labels in the future. I can’t wait for tomorrow. I look forward to kale chips, dairy farm field trips, after school cooking clubs, and locally sourced lunches. Yum.

This blog first appeared on the Web site The Lunchtray: http://www.thelunchtray.com/about-2/