Converting Kids to Fresh Food at the School of the Arts

dreAn Interview with Dre Maher, Farm to School Liaison at the Nevada City School of the Arts

What do you do as the Farm to School Liaison for Sierra Harvest?

I introduce fresh, local produce to children and their families in a few different ways. One of my favorite things is the garden cart, which was donated by Sierra Harvest. We get CSA shares from John Tecklin at Mountain Bounty for the cart and it is out twice a week at NCSA.  Some families also grow things for the cart – things people have never seen before like unusual herbs. It attracts a gathering of people who are discussing how to use the things they find on the cart. Parents are gathering around food.

We also have the Harvest of the Month program where a different produce item is featured every month. So many kids now recognize me and will come up to me at school and ask if I brought any food. Sometimes we’ll make a chart to find out if kids know and like the item, and if they like it after they taste it. Kids put in their vote on whether something tastes sweet or sour, or the texture.  It’s a great opportunity to taste produce at its peak freshness, because it comes straight from the farm. Some kids did not like cantaloupe, and their parents had unsuccessfully tried to get them to eat cantaloupe, and then they tried the Mountain Bounty cantaloupe and decided that it tastes like candy and they do in fact want to eat it.

What do you love about this work?

I love the hopefulness of positive change —  kids knowing where their food comes from and being excited about eating real food, maybe even being motivated to grow their own food. I like the reversal of instead of parents telling kids to eat their greens, the kids are asking their parents to buy things like kiwis!

What has the reaction been like to the Farm to School program at NCSA?

It has been overwhelmingly positive and supportive. Last year was the first year, and some teachers were not excited about trying to fit one more thing into the school day, but now they see that the kids get engaged –they are getting turned on by tasting and the excitement of eating something new, and then they are still at this level of heightened awareness that carries over to the next lesson.

How do you support local food in Nevada County?

We have shifted how we budget and plan meals since moving to the area. We used to go to Costco, and now we shop exclusively at Briar Patch. Because of their mission statement to have as much local food as possible, I can get grains, produce, everything there, and know that the farmers are being paid a fair price. I try to teach others about the benefits of buying local food, leading by example and talking about how much money I have saved shopping primarily in bulk and produce.

What did you cook this past holiday season?

My family is Italian – I am only the second generation to be in the U.S. We have a family tradition of spending Christmas Eve with my mom and dad making making cioppino. It’s a tomato-based soup with lots of different kinds of seafood. Everything at Briar Patch has the Monterey Bay Aquariaum seal of approval for being sustainably harvested, so we buy our seafood there. Some years we bake our own sourdough bread to go with it, but this year we bought Truckee sourdough. Cioppino is really messy – even the adults get messy. We put down a plastic table cloth and everyone gets a couple of napkins and just digs in.