Fresh PICKED healthy food choices in Michigan

Fresh PICKED Healthy Food Choices In Michigan

Thu 28 Apr 2011

Story by Kimberlee Murray
 

When Sam Jacokes first saw the Commerce Elementary school lunch menu she was disappointed with what was on offer, and that it was labeled as healthy food. As a follower of Jamie Oliverís Food Revolution program, Sam was inspired to make a change. She talked to the principal, food services supervisor, parents and even a state representative about introducing healthier lunch options. However, she soon found out that changing government-regulated school lunch menus could take years, and felt that it would be impossible for her to achieve alone so the easiest option was to pack a healthy lunch for her son.

Although Sam packed nutritious foods for her son every day, she worried about the students in the lunchroom selecting french fries as a vegetable option or blueberry jello for fruit. She asked herself the question: How can these students make good choices if good choices arenít even offered? And she realized that something had to change.

Over the summer break Sam read about an elementary school in Ann Arbor, Michigan, that had planted a vegetable garden and thatís where her idea initially came from. Instead of trying to change government-mandated menus she could enlighten students about healthy eating by planting a vegetable garden at her school!

Sam remembered a Food Revolution episode during which Jamie taught students about fresh fruits and vegetables by taking real produce into the classroom and decided she could do the same. Why not educate students about nutrition and healthy food choices by creating a working garden that ties into grade-level curriculum? Sam decided that by getting parents involved she would have extra backing. Sam recruited some like-minded parents and a group called Fresh P.I.C.K.E.D. (Parents Informing Commerce Kids About Eating Decisions) was born.

The group met each week to identify goals, determine funding options and plan the garden layout. Each person was allocated specific tasks such as such as filling out grant applications or soliciting community donations. Using meeting notes, which included photos of the proposed garden location, one member created a proposal which outlined a mission statement, plan of action, budget (including funding options) and timeline. Another member created a garden display board as a visual aid for meetings. A logo was also designed to associate the group with the garden project.

Sam then set up a meeting with the principal during which she presented the proposal documents and visual aids which her group had worked on. He was so impressed with the groupís attention to detail and dedication to creating a dynamic learning environment that he agreed to the vegetable garden idea right away. The principal even uses the groupís initial presentation materials during faculty and district meetings today

Planning the garden layout, building the beds and introducing the garden are all top priorities. Other tasks which are priorities include contacting businesses about donations, deciding on rain barrel and irrigation placement and creating a website and Facebook page.

Funding plans include filing grant applications, soliciting local businesses and/or families for sponsorship opportunities and obtaining PTA assistance. Other fundraising ideas include offering garden beautification projects like family garden stones or fence art or compiling cookbooks incorporating specific garden vegetable recipes. The group hopes to unveil the new garden at a ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 1, 2011

In the future, Fresh P.I.C.K.E.D. plans to start a compost system for access to their own soil and expand the garden to include more vegetables, fruits, flowers and trees. The garden group will work with the PTA to incorporate tables and benches for a proper outdoor classroom. During the summer months the group will offer excess produce from the garden to local food banks to help families in need.

The vegetable garden is the first step toward changing the way the Commerce Elementary students observe, discover, experiment and learn about health. Maybe offering a healthier lunch menu wonít take years, after all!

About the author: Kimberlee Murray is a writer and part of the Fresh P.I.C.K.E.D. team at Commerce Elementary in Commerce Twp., Michigan. Visit the groupís website here.

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