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Farmers Growing Relationships With State College Students

by on October 01, 2014 6:25 AM

I'm a regular at the Boalsburg Farmers' Market, and can't get through the week without a supply of Gemelli bread, Way Fruit Farm apples, or Eden View soups and snacks.

Last week, my son, 9, did the shopping. Full disclosure: My son goes to the market to play on tanks, not to shop for butternut squash.

But he received two vouchers worth $2.50 each at Easterly Parkway Elementary School through a special "Farmer Comes to School" presentation organized and sponsored by the Boalsburg Farmers' Market. Paying with his vouchers, he picked an enormous Asian pear from Jade Family Farm and a chocolate almond scone from Eden View.

The scone was, no surprise, a big hit. But that night my apples-only-please son ate—and even enjoyed—a pear. "When a kid makes a decision, I think they enjoy the outcome a lot better," says Tony Sapia, Boalsburg Farmers' Market co-manager and owner of Gemelli Bakers.

Despite my affinity for farmer's markets and farms stands, my kids aren't big vegetable eaters. And, at least as far as my daughter, 6, is concerned, my passion becomes a pawn in our ever-constant power struggle. So I'm especially grateful when someone other than me is giving them a nudge.

Increasingly, that nudge is coming from their school cafeteria. State College Area School District has been featuring local products on the menu at all schools in September and October. So far, my kids have been offered sweet corn, peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, cantaloupe, watermelon, apples, peaches, and pears—all grown in Pa.

The "Farmer Comes to School" program gives kids a chance to meet the people growing those fruit and veggies. "It's created a dialogue, maybe not around farming, but around farms and the question of where our food comes from," Sapia says. "And from Friends & Farmers Cooperative to the area farmer's markets, isn't that what we're all about?"

In September, local farmers visited schools at Easterly, Houserville and Park Forest. Jim Byler of Byler's Goat Dairy visited Park Forest and gave a presentation that included showing pictures of his adorable goats (including the one pictured here), passing out samples of white and chocolate goat milk, and answering such questions as: "How much milk does a goat give?" (Up to a gallon and a half daily); "How long does a goat live?" (Fifteen to 20 years); "Are they friendly?" (Very); and most memorable, "Do you milk the bucks?" (No, we don't).

(For all those parents who worry how our kids talk to adults when they're out of our sight, Byler had this to offer: "I was really impressed by their politeness. Someone is teaching these kids manners.")

The free samples, offered as students walk through the lunch line, are a highlight of the program. Houserville students tried "yummy peppers," which Sapia describes as "globules of sugar." Easterly students noshed on salsa from The Piper's Peck and dried apples from Way Fruit Farm. They were also treated to a piece of zucchini bread made from a bumper crop from the school garden. That zucchini will also show up in soup served later in October.

"We are very fortunate to live in an area where many of our students have home gardens or visit farmer's markets regularly. Our kids do know where food comes from and how it grows," says Megan Schaper, Food Service Director for State College Area School District. "Still, having the interaction with the farmers/producers opens kids up to tasting things that otherwise they might not."

"Farmer Comes to School" travels to Radio Park Oct. 9. This time the farmers will be joined by representatives from the Pennsylvania departments of Education and Agriculture, who are visiting to recognize the district's commitment to Pennsylvania grown and produced foods. The schedule includes the Boalsburg Farmers' Market presentation, a tour of the Radio Park garden, and a local food lunch made with an assist from culinary arts students at the high school. With entrees like "Grilled Cheddar and Apple Sandwich on Gemelli bread" and "Chef Salad with Roasted Root Veggies," these kids will be eating better than most of their parents that day.

I've done my fair share of grumbling about the lunch menu, but I also know that my son wouldn't order if the menu didn't regularly feature popcorn chicken or baked chicken nuggets. Schaper doesn't have an easy job, but each year she's doing more to incorporate fresh, local produce into the menu.

My son may never outgrow chicken nuggets, but my hope is that he'll grow into a relationship with vegetables, even the gnarly ones.

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Michele Marchetti is a freelance writer and the former managing editor of StateCollege.com. Prior to moving to State College, she spent more than 10 years writing for national magazines. Her work has appeared in a wide variety of publications, including Fortune, Fortune Small Business, Glamour, U.S. News & World Report, Runner's World, Good Housekeeping, Working Mother, Yoga Life and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/MMStateCollege or contact her at [email protected]
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