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Fresh Produce Day in grade school

When I was in grade school, every year someone would come from the fire department to talk to the class. It was always a nice break from the usual, and we all got plastic Junior Fire Marshal badges. I wore mine for a week or so thereafter.

Of course the real goal was to teach us about fire safety.

richard smoley produce blueprints

Ashley Nickle, a produce marketing specialist in the Kansas City area, adopted a similar idea. Her sister-in-law was a physical education teacher at a grade school, and since healthy eating goes naturally with physical activity, they decided to have Fresh Produce Fridays at the school, in Olathe, KS.

“We focused on kindergarten through second grade,” says Nickle, “and I visited the school about six times in the spring semester, where we got to see about 60-70 kids across 4 classes each time. Of course, in a perfect world we’d love to reach even more kids and even more frequently, but we decided not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Nickle brought some asparagus she had gotten from a recent trip to California and gave it to the kids to taste. The verdict: it’s not bad, even in raw form, with what Nickle describes as “a crazy, sweet, nutty flavor,” especially fresh from the field.

With cherry tomatoes, Nickle passed a bowl containing an assortment, so that the students could pick the color that most appealed to them. Halos and kiwis were also popular.

The school had a PE-based field day focused on outdoor activities. Nickle and her sister-in-law set up a mango station in coordination with C & C Produce, LLC BB #:149142 Kansas City, MO, which donated fresh-cut mango, and the National Mango Board, which provided “lots of swag that we put together for the kids.”

“My sister-in-law had the kids write thank you letters to C&C,” adds Nickle. “Folks in the industry were so sweet to send videos and product. They were so supportive.”

Although Nickle’s sister-in-law is moving on to work full-time as a certified professional trainer, Nickle hopes she will be able to develop a similar relationship with her successor. “We’ll do different fruits and vegetables in the fall,” she says. “I think it’ll be fun.”

For the present, Nickle doesn’t have any plans to expand the program beyond one school, but she adds, “If there’s anyone in the industry who would want to start a similar program with one of their local schools, I’d be happy to talk with them and provide more details/answer any questions about how we executed it if that would be helpful.”

The ultimate message to the children, according to Nickle: “Whatever you like to do is going to be easier for your whole life if you eat more fruits and vegetables.”

Correction: The original version of this story misidentified the company supplying fresh produce for this program.

Richard Smoley, contributing editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 12 books.