A Day in the Life of a FoodCorps Member: Kids Make Kale Cool

By Chelsea Krist, FoodCorps service member in Des Moines, Iowa.

As I walk into the cafeteria at an elementary school, my eyes are drawn to bright yellow, homemade posters that cover the walls. These posters were made by a group of fifth graders as part of their school-wide kale campaign. 

“Kale: Kool, Awesome, Legit, Energy.” 

“Kale is a treasure that you don’t have to dig up!” 

“Kale: Raw Coolness.” 

These fifth graders brought the idea of hosting a kale campaign to me after researching, growing and snacking on a plethora of kale recipes. They went above and beyond my expectations, delivering kale presentations and kale smoothies to the rest of the school. One brave group of students even performed a kale rap during an assembly. A room of kids chanting “K-A-L-E” is, indeed, a rare and remarkable sight.

Spurred by their particular affinity for kale, these fifth graders independently developed strategies to popularize the un-hip veggie in their school. Their brilliant messaging and intent to involve the wider student body mirrored a campaign to market broccoli that the New York Times wrote about this fall. I was proud to discover, after the fact, that these students came up with the same kind of marketing tactics professionals are using to positively reinforce a culture of healthy food in the public eye. Hands-on engagement like this translates lesson plans into lasting skills and healthy habits that exist beyond the classroom. Hearing parents discuss their children’s new taste for kale at fall conferences and noting the recent addition to their grocery list, demonstrated the students’ effort to enable better food choices even in their own homes. 

It was fulfilling to witness this success take form as my year of service with FoodCorps has also given me perspective on realities of food insecurity and childhood malnutrition in my home state. Each year in Iowa, we see a rising need for food and nutrition assistance in both rural and urban areas. The fact that we devote the vast majority of our land to agriculture but remain unable to feed our local communities fresh, healthy food is a paradox - one that we must take steps to solving through direct action and service. As a FoodCorps service member, I feel equipped with the resources, connections and support to make a difference, and I have a blast doing it.

Stationed at four schools throughout the Des Moines public school district, I lead a variety of nutrition, cooking and gardening lessons with students of all ages. First graders learn what it means to ‘Pick a Better Snack,’ gobbling down samples of locally grown carrots in a monthly program that imparts the importance of making healthy food choices and staying active. At ‘Dig In!,’ a garden-fusion class for middle schoolers, students practice basic growing and culinary techniques, transforming produce fresh from their school garden into delicious, seasonal snacks. High school students are introduced to indoor gardening as a part of their culinary arts course, tending basil, cilantro, parsley and arugula that they incorporate into the school’s café menu. 

These programs are designed to facilitate an atmosphere of creativity and experimentation. As we explore sweet potatoes, pollination, composting or cooking, students meet new concepts with curiosity and excitement as they practice new skills. Through the kale campaign, for example, the fifth grade took real ownership of learning about and sharing their newfound knowledge and appreciation for a vegetable that used to be unfamiliar but is now the talk of the school. If we want our children to develop a positive relationship with food that is sustained throughout adulthood, exposing them to participatory, garden-based education is our best tool. As a FoodCorps service member, I see this tool as one of many that will strengthen community health and support access to wholesome food across Iowa. When we empower our children to value their food, their health and their education, we reinforce a brighter future for them.

If you’d like to be a FoodCorps service member, read more and apply here, now through March 30th 2014.