Report from the field (well...cafeteria)

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My name is Whitney. I joined Farmer Foodshare in September to support Farmer Foodshare’s community outreach efforts, which these days includes recruiting a lot of volunteers to support our cafeteria taste tests. It seemed like a good idea to start by volunteering at one myself.

Today we’re at YE Smith Elementary School. Apron on? Check. Other volunteers in place? Check. Here come the kids, careening down the hallway in their wiggly way.

Braedyn shares about sweet potatoes

Braedyn shares about sweet potatoes

They stop oh-so-briefly to listen to Braedyn, our program manager, who’s explaining everything possible about a sweet potato, today’s NC-grown vegetable. Then they’re off, queuing up to get their lunch. When they emerge from the line, it’s my job to convince them to try a sweet potato.

Most are polite: they say thank you when I give them their cup.  Of course, I don’t know if they’ll actually eat them.

Then comes this one kid.  “Absolutely not.” I plead with him a bit.  “No.”


I pull out the big money: “If you try just one bite, I’ll give you a pencil with fruits and veggies on it.”

That seals the deal. Off he goes, cup of sweet potatoes in hand.

Once all the cups are handed out, I take a walk around the cafeteria to check in with the students and see what they thought. I like to start with the ones who have empty cups – if they’ve tried the veggies without further encouragement, I’m pretty sure they liked them, and I can use them to elicit a bit of positive peer pressure.

I spot the kid who refused. He has 5 empty cups in front of him, leaving me to wonder exactly where he got all those extra sweet potatoes!

I ask him what he thought.

“They were ok. They need a pinch of sugar. Why are they called sweet potatoes if they aren’t really sweet?”

It’s time to vote. The kids return their trays and line up to leave. A fellow volunteer holds up a poster and explains the voting options while another volunteer hands out stickers. Did the kids like the sweet potatoes? Love them? Maybe next time? As they make their way out the door, the kids place their sticker in the appropriate spot on the poster.

The formerly-reluctant-kid-turned-champion-eater puts his sticker in the “liked it” column. After all, they weren’t really all that sweet.

Then he informs me it’s time for his pencil. For that, I direct him back to his classroom, where it lies waiting for him and all the others who were willing to give fresh veggies a go.

Next week, when the students encounter a locally grown sweet potato delivered by Farmer Foodshare, I won’t be there to offer pencils and encouragement. But, I have full confidence that the kids will remember our time together. At the very least, they’ll remember the cool pencil they received, and they’ll eat their veggies.