The Food Ambassador Chronicles


from the Holt Elementary School Taste Test
Annie Kersting, Americorps Service Member, hosted by Inter-Faith Food Shuttle

I precariously push a cart of carefully arranged paper cups down the narrow aisles of the Holt Elementary School cafeteria.  As soon as I make eye contactwith a familiar face, a whole table of small bodies leap from their seats to a chorus of “Ms. Annie! Ms. Annie!”  I am overwhelmed and warmed by their enthusiasm, and after I remark so to their teacher, she nods knowingly, “first graders will do that.” I have been visiting their classroom for five months now teaching short lessons on food nutrition and growing food in our school garden through Inter-Faith Food Shuttle’s  Urban Agriculture Education programs and the FoodCorps, Americorps program.

Our latest lesson was on the “squash family” and learning about pumpkin’s oddly-shaped cousins. We ended the lesson with a school-wide taste test of butternut squash with Farmer Foodshare.

The first graders’ review of the cinnamon and sugar roasted vegetable was resounding approval, their affection for the new food intertwined with their enthusiasm for interacting with an exciting visitor.  The third graders I visit next are not as easily impressed. Many show us thumbs sideways, an indication of “it tasted ok” on our taste rating scale. Braedyn confidently leans into a table and recounts his childhood hatred of coconut, and then his change in preference as he got older and enjoyed it.  

Our message to students: you don’t have to like everything you taste, but don’t be afraid to try it. I work with the hope that students are learning to be open-minded about new foods and aware of how food choices affect their health. I am learning that it is not just multiple exposures to vegetables that fosters this, but the people involved (teachers, cafeteria staff, and exciting visitors like Braedyn and other Farmer Foodshare staff and volunteers, as well as myself) to ignite enthusiasm and tell stories that make the food familiar.


The Food Ambassador Taste Test program has successfully concluded for the semester. You can support next semester's Food Ambassador Taste Test program by making a donation today.

Special thanks to folks like Annie from Inter-Faith Food Shuttle and FoodCorps, Durham Public Schools, each and every Cafeteria staff and manager who are so deeply passionate about serving students, Jim Keaton and Becky Pope of the Durham Public School's nutrition programs, the DINE program, former Farmer Foodshare superstar - Camilla Posthill, parents, community members and other folks who volunteered their time and gifts to ensure that students experienced fresh, healthy and local food at lunchtime every day. Braedyn Mallard, Farmer Foodshare's own Registered Dietitian and Food Ambassador Program Manager deserves a resounding round of applause for his dedication and enthusiasm to living the belief that ALL people deserve fresh, local food. Stay tuned for more opportunities to volunteer in a school cafeteria near you next semester.

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.