Carrying clipboards and pencils, a gaggle of first graders at Burroughs Elementary excitedly heads outside to the FoodPrints school garden after the last bell rings. It’s a cloudy day, but that doesn’t dim their excitement as they gather around raised garden beds filled with sprouting plants, eager to discover what’s growing. The first graders are part of FRESHFARM FoodPrints, an education program that integrates gardening, cooking, and nutrition into a standard-based curriculum.
Stacia Kiraly, their FoodPrints lead teacher, encourages the kids to look carefully, with “eagle eyes.” Delighted, they find tiny strawberries hiding among the leaves. Ms. Stacia tells the kids that the white ones aren’t ready to eat yet, but that the red strawberries are ripe, and can be picked and eaten. No one hesitates to harvest and sample any ripe berries they can find. One girl gasps, exclaiming, “this tastes just like strawberry ice cream!”
Other beds reveal radishes, which the kids planted earlier in the year from seed tape–lengths of toilet paper with seeds glued to them and buried in the soil. Further exploration yielded a caterpillar, which was admired by some, and given the opportunity to crawl across the paper of one student, where he used it as a live model for his drawing.
Back inside the school building, the kids ate homemade strawberry rhubarb compote on top of Greek yogurt. They learned that rhubarb–which they didn’t grow themselves, but which came from a farmer in the FRESHFARM network –has poisonous leaves and only the stem is edible. Typically during FoodPrints class, the students prepare, cook, and eat their own snack, but Ms. Stacia had made the compote ahead of time because of the time required to simmer the fruit. Healthy, kid-friendly recipes are a staple of the FoodPrints curriculum, and FRESHFARM, the Washington, DC based nonprofit that runs FoodPrints, has made hundreds of them available on its website. With the goal of “improving health and academic outcomes for children and families,” FRESHFARM also shares FoodPrints curriculum, videos, and a variety of resources for educators and families.
Foodprints currently partners with 19 DC public schools to reach more than 7,000 students, although it’s the kind of program that every school and every student would benefit from. Students in FoodPrints schools eat significantly more of school lunches prepared with fresh produce and are more likely to be willing to eat more fruits and vegetables in school and at home than their peers at other schools. And learning how food is grown and participating in the process reinforces nutrition education and makes healthy eating more sustainable.
After they returned from the garden, the Burroughs first graders settled down with some butterfly yoga. They had already learned about caterpillars–in fact dozens of caterpillars were nestled in their chrysalises in a mesh butterfly hatching kit in the classroom. Ms. Stacia led the kids through the life cycle of a butterfly, from curling up like a tiny egg just laid on a leaf through many moments of eating through leaves, shedding skin, forming a chrysalis, and emerging as a butterfly, with wings stretched out and drying from the sun. The butterfly yoga not only provides an opportunity for movement and mindfulness, but also reinforces the concept of pollinators and their importance in growing fruit and vegetables.
In addition to providing in-school and afterschool sessions across the District, FoodPrints offers programming at three schools as part of DCPS Summer Academies. After kids attend traditional summer school classes in the morning to help them catch up in math, reading, and other core subjects, FoodPrints students spend the afternoon learning about, growing, and most importantly eating healthy and delicious food.