FROSTBURG, Md. — Fourth-grade students from Beall Elementary in Frostburg, Md, were treated to an educational excursion to their local farmers market, hosted by an interdisciplinary team of UMD Extension educators in Allegany County, as part of the Food Supplement Nutrition Education (FSNE) and the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Programming (EFNEP) youth curriculum.
Each class experienced an immersive look into the lifecycle of their fresh produce, working with Sara Barnard, EFNEP educator in Allegany County, to plant pepper seeds and learn about proper plant care. The morning culminates in a take-away lesson in agriculture, farming, safe food handling, cooking, nutrition, and even a little geography.
“We want our children to understand why local food matters,” said Lynn Rubin, senior faculty specialist with FSNE. “We want them to know how food grows, how it gets from the farm to their plates.”
The May 24 trip to the Frostburg farmers market included a classroom component with Tammy Humberson, FSNE project leader and educator, who has been working with these particular kids since their pre-K and kindergarten years, teaching them how far commercial produce travels to get to a supermarket, versus how far food travels to get to a farmers market from a local farm.
“What are the three natural destroyers of vitamins?” Humberson asks the class.
The students shout, “Light!” “Heat!” “Air!”
“We need all those things for the plants to grow in the garden, but too much makes the fruit or vegetable break down,” Humberson tells the class. “The less miles that food travels to get to us will help with all three of those things.”
The students know the answers from their previous FSNE ReFresh programming in Beall Elementary, which also maintains a “Smarter Lunchroom,” a program in which FSNE educators work directly with cafeteria staff to incorporate more vegetable-based entrees and encourage healthy habits.
The farmers market field trip not only provided a food science component, it included a safe handling lesson and a tasting of Sunshine Salad, a special recipe prepared by Shirley Ann Guinn, FSNE faculty assistant, who teaches the class how to make the salad on their own.
Recipes provided by FSNE are shared through newsletters and the Text2BHealthy program. “Almost 40 percent of the parents are connected to the Text2BHealthy program in [Beall Elementary],” said Humberson. “Parents can learn about what the kids did in the FSNE programming that day, and link to recipes and tips online.”
Students toured the farmers market to learn what types of produce are in season at different times of the year. They also get to see what it’s like to live and work on a farm from farmers themselves, like Jeanette Rinehart, owner of Walnut Ridge Farm in Flintstone, Md, and retired PE teacher from Beall Elementary, who regularly makes trips to the school to talk to the students about where their food comes from and why it’s important to reduce food waste.
“Everything that goes in your mouth comes from a farm,” Rinehart tells the fourth graders over bags of fresh greens and rows of onions. “Even pizza — all the parts of a pizza come from a farm.”
FSNE educators across the state aim to help school-aged children make these connections between the farms in their communities, the food they eat, and their own health and nutrition.
“We want them to have that relationship with local food and farms,” said Rubin. “Activities like this help us to bring all of the pieces together.”
To learn more about how FSNE helps provide families with the skills and knowledge they need to make healthy choices, or to find healthy recipes and resources for your own family, visit eatsmart.umd.edu.
–Laura Wormuth, University of Maryland Extension