“Be Brave!” coaxes Erin Jackson, Gallatin Valley Farm to School’s (GVF2S) education director, as a classroom full of first graders at Monforton Elementary hold up slices of zucchini and summer squash before taking a bite. Gallatin Valley Farm to School’s partnership with Monforton School received one of twelve Community Leadership Grants from the Bozeman Area Community Foundation in 2016. The taste test was the culminating moment of a forty-five minute classroom lesson about summer squash where first graders used their senses to scientifically study these vegetables. The lesson began with students feeling the vegetable hidden in a paper bag and then using descriptive words to describe what they felt. Then students had the opportunity to draw diagrams of the vegetable and to finally taste and smell the summer squash. This was just one of many age-appropriate lessons presented in the Monforton School to celebrate September’s Harvest of the Month, summer squash. Older students engaged in activities like making zucchini chips or zucchini pickles while learning about the preservative qualities of salt and vinegar.
In addition to drawing, preparing, or feeling squash in the classroom, all students have the opportunity to enjoy the Harvest of the Month in the lunchroom. At Monforton, students have the opportunity to taste-test a special harvest of the month dish once a month and receive a serving of that month’s harvest on their lunch tray another day of the month. This month, students sampled a cheesy zucchini bake and received a zucchini muffin for dessert on another day. Monforton School is so committed to increasing the amount of local vegetables in their school, that the school pays for all squash served in the cafeteria, while Gallatin Valley Farm to School purchases produce directly from farmers to use in classroom lessons.This partnership gets even sweeter: all produce served in the cafeteria and classroom come from local organic farms in the Gallatin Valley. This month’s summer squash served at Monforton School came from less than 5 miles away at Three Hearts Farm. Students are constantly reminded of where the squash came from and throughout the year’s lessons, they will also dive deeper into the growing process in order to solidify an understanding of where the food that they eat comes from.
While the focus on learning, tasting, and local growing sounds great on paper, student’s reactions to taste tests and classroom lessons prove this program to be an engaging part of their school day. After sampling the zucchini bake, students had the opportunity to vote on their experience with small pieces of colored paper. Students could pick from the options of “tried it,” “liked it,” and “loved it”. Amazingly, only 16% of students didn’t care for the dish. One first grader, Lily B. shared that she had “never tried squash before, but I loved it.” Furthermore, she shared that she “learned that there are different types of squash” through the classroom lesson. Best of luck to Lily as she continues to grow into an adventurous vegetable eater!
Building excitement for local produce is one of the main focuses and talents of Gallatin Valley Farm to School. Erin Jackson has big dreams for the organization’s and our valley’s future. She hopes to someday see “all schools in Gallatin Valley serve local food on a weekly basis” and for all kids to think critically about the “impact of [their] food choices on their bodies, community, and environment.” While she realizes the immensity of this dream, she provides some hands-on action steps for community members to support this goal. Of course donating to Gallatin Valley Farm to School is greatly appreciated, but eating lunch with your child on the days local food is served in classrooms or engaging kiddos in buying and cooking local produce at home are all ways to foster a culture of local and healthy foods. October is also National Farm to School Month. Consider taking your family to the fourth annual Farm to School Feastival on October 15th from 11 am – 3pm at Rocky Creek Farm. There will be plenty of opportunities to enjoy local foods, have fun, and learn some tips for preparing healthy meals. As Erin tells her first graders just before they take their first bite, “cheers to summer squash!” and cheers to Gallatin Valley Farm to School!