Grade schoolers push away a hot dog in favor of kale and a green smoothie — and many even ask for seconds. Seems improbable? Well, it's not and they do — the children who participate in the Collaborative Farm to School Garden Program and eat free meals provided by the Farmhouse School Lunch Program certainly do.
Now in its fourth year, the organic lunch program under the umbrella Farm to School Program — founded by Farmhouse Café and Bakery owner Micah Roseberry (aka "Farmer Micah") — provided 475 free, fresh, healthy organic breakfasts and lunches to students at Anansi Day School, Taos International Charter School (TICS) and at the University of New Mexico-Taos (UNM-Taos) Kid's Teaching Campus during the past school year. This year, she is expecting to provide 575 meals. She would like to expand the meal program to more area schools. The program is reinforced by Taos Valley Farms, owned by Joni and Roy Cunningham who also encourage the youth to help make their own lunches by picking vegetables and learning to make smoothies and salads. Roseberry and her son Isaac Carmona contribute food to complete the lunches. Besides Taos Valley Farms, ingredients for the free meals come from more than 20 local farmers and ranchers who grow organically and raise humanly.
During the garden program's Summer Enrichment Camp, participating Enos Garcia, UNM-Taos Kid's Campus and TICS (K-8) students till, plant, tend to and harvest such unlikely kid-approved foods such as beets, spinach and calabasha in two Parr Field gardens at Enos Garcia Elementary School every Wednesday. They also plant lettuce, carrots, sugar snap peas, blue corn, heirloom pumpkins, beans and tomatoes; All for the purpose of gaining a love of growing and eating healthy food.
"The kids' faces say how much they like being in the garden," said parent and the program's executive director, Nikki Cain. "They are all so cooperative and are more apt to try different foods."
Many of the children start gardens at home and often ask Cain for seeds. The boys, Cain said, mimic the males in their lives who work hard every day. Every child learns patience.
"It's a beautiful lesson that they see is a natural process," Cain expressed. "But, it's a joyful lesson because of the expectation."
Roseberry envisions a garden at every area school one day.
But the program has a cross curriculum — it isn't just about digging a trench, watering, weeding, cultivating and eating. Along with assistance from UNM-Taos sustainable farming students in a program taught by Roseberry, the children learn about general agricultural practices, food traditions, measuring and cooking.
"Tastings" — through the After School Enrichment Program — are a byproduct of the all-inclusive, once-a-week cooking classes held during the school year at Enos Garcia and TISC. Delights such as muffins made from the blue corn they grew got rave reviews, as did the kale chips baked in a solar oven.
"We are expanding their palettes," Roseberry beamed. "I love it when I overhear a child say, 'Yuck,' when looking at a green smoothie, then taste it and say, 'Yum,' and then ask their parent if they can make it at home."
Added Cain, "Whatever they're eating and planting, they ask for more."
The growing season culminates in the fall with a Harvest Festival at Enos Garcia. The entire elementary participates.
The hope of Roseberry and Cain is to instill in the children a lifelong desire of land stewardship and healthy eating — and to continue to grow the local farming network.
For more information, go to the web site farmhousetaos.com.