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Farm to school: Brown students taste the Valleys harvest
Brown pic1
Brown students pick out their favorite fruits and vegetables to take home to their families during an after-school program on Wednesday. As part of Octobers National Farm to School Month, California-based Ag Link visited the school to teach the students about the importance of eating fruits and vegetables. - photo by NANCY ANGEL / The Journal

From apples to oranges, peaches and strawberries, Brown Elementary students were in for a healthy treat on Wednesday when the food services staff from the Turlock Unified School District set up a mini farmers market at their campus.

As part of October’s National Farm to School Month, California-based Ag Link, a privately owned company that works with food producers and growers to develop a regional farm to school programs, visited the ASES after school program at Brown to educate the students on incorporating fruits and vegetables into their daily diets.

“We want to teach the children about the importance of fruits and vegetables,” said TUSD Director of Child Nutrition Scott Soiseth.  “As part of our presentation, we hand them out samples of different nuts, fruits and vegetables so they could taste it and get them excited to choose healthier options to their diet.”

During the presentation students were given a brief lecture on how fruits and vegetables grow.  They sang along to different tunes and even discussed which types of produce harvest during each season.  At the end of the presentation, students voted on which fruits, vegetables, and nuts they wanted included to their lunch program and also picked their favorite selection from the mini farmers market to take home to their families.

“We want our students to be a part of the selection process,” said Soiseth.  “Our goal is to advance fresh food to California kids by linking schools to local farm fresh markets.”

Brown fifth grader Seth Portusach enjoyed the different samples that were handed to him to taste.

“I really enjoyed trying the different fruits and vegetables,” he said.  “The red peppers were my favorite.”

ASES Site Manager Gina Tonarelli and her staff at Brown Elementary worked with the TUSD food service staff and a local farmer to set up the mini farmers’ market.  Tonarelli has been working to get the students excited about eating healthy.

“Our staff has been working hard to ensure our students are well aware about the benefits of eating healthy,” said Tonarelli.  “We’ve put together creative and innovative ways to educate every single student.  We’ve set up different arts and crafts, gone through nature walks, and even given them healthy alternative snacks that they can create at home.”

California-based Ag Link helps school districts to communicate with nearby farmers and buy their produce. It's helping the Turlock district and others meet new federal rules requiring more fruits and vegetables in school cafeterias to help prevent childhood obesity.

The food services staff at TUSD plans to visit other school sites around the district and educate students about the importance of fruits and vegetables.