Deep into the summer months, it is almost impossible for one to ignore the bounty of fresh and local produce. Farmer’s markets, farm stands and pick-your-own stops can be found around just about every corner if you have your eyes open for them. The colors are what pull me in – think bright green basil, purple beans and summer squash so yellow it looks painted! What better time is there to get our kids and teens excited about trying new fruits and vegetables?
I am always looking for ways to reinforce the key principles of “My Plate.” Most people are not aware that 50% of our daily intake should come from fruits and vegetables. Yes – 50% – and this does not include corn chips, fruit “roll-ups” or those green, orange and yellow sticks in a bag. Participation in a local farm share, otherwise known as a “CSA,” or community-supported agriculture, has made this easy for my own family. My kids love nothing more than grabbing sugar snap peas right off the plants and eating them in the fields – and I love nothing more than watching them!
I do realize that participating in a CSA program is not something that is readily available to everyone. Apart from time and cost considerations, there are often waiting lists for such programs! Two months ago I met Megan Rynne at a local farm spring fest and told her about my shared medical appointment group – SMArt Kids. SMArt Kids has been up and running since January 2011, designed for kids and teens struggling with obesity. The emphasis is on healthy living and making healthy choices. As Megan and I talked further, our eyes lit up collectively as we envisioned how we might be able to bring the farm to our own patients here in West Roxbury!
Megan is a West Roxbury native, who has an inherent passion for the environment. Since graduating from UMass Amherst in 2007, with a self-designed degree in Sustainable Development and Environmental International Relations, Megan has worked as a farm-based, ecological educator and farm apprentice in New York and Massachusetts. She joined Land’s Sake Farm in Weston this spring, and has an enthusiastic spirit for educating youth about food and farming, and empowering younger generations to join in on the conversation.
This month on July 18th, Megan joined our SMArt Kids session as a guest expert. Fully equipped with bags of fruits and veggies picked fresh from the farm that day, as well as a human-powered smoothie-making bicycle, Megan had the group’s attention from the get-go. Her energy and enthusiasm permeated the room. Our SMArt Kids participants did jumping jacks, forward bends and reaching up to represent how far different foods had to travel to get to us. We learned that many foods start out from vegetables, but that processing steps remove all the best parts of those foods and makes the end product not very good for our bodies. Parents were engaged as they listened about the benefits of eating locally-sourced, seasonal produce.
I can honestly say that I have never seen bigger smiles from this group than when each participant had a chance to climb up on that human-powered smoothie maker. With a combination of fresh blackberries, kale, mint, honey and ice in the blender, our kids spun the wheels with all their might to make one delicious, anti-oxidant and micro-nutrient-packed treat for everyone to try. I noticed one child’s eyes nearly roll back into her head when she took her first whiff of a fresh mint leaf, and then asked if she could keep it! We all considered this basic recipe of 1 fruit + 1 vegetable + 1 herb and brainstormed together about other interesting, potential combinations, as well as different ways to use a dark leafy green, like kale, for cooking.
I have to say that the best moment of this collaboration, for me, happened when Megan gave the remaining kale to two sisters in the back of the room to take home. The two girls sat there quietly, thinking no one was watching, and nibbled on that kale until the bag was nearly empty. Not much different from watching my own kids with their sugar snap peas in the fields. One small and tangible piece of success, such as this, is so important in the big picture, and it felt like such a gift.
We look forward to welcoming Megan and Land’s Sake back again at our next SMArt Kids session on August 22nd.
Please click here to find more information on joining a local CSA program