Bonita Preston’s third-grade class transformed into aliens from the planet Zog, in search of the recipe for soil.
Zoe Tucker helped the students transform as part of her Food Corps lesson at Lakeside Elementary School last Wednesday, where students dug around in the dirt to figure out what makes up a rich soil needed to grow plants.
Tucker has been working in Bigfork, Somers, Lakeside and Cayuse Prairie schools since September as a Montana Food Corps service member.
Food Corps was born in Montana in 2006 through Grow Montana and the Montana Campus Compact. In 2011 Food Corps launched as a national program in 10 states. The program was developed largely in response to childhood obesity and aims to educate youth on healthy food — how it grows, where it comes from and how to access it.
Preston enjoys having Tucker work with her third-grade class in Lakeside.
“It’s just so important,” she said. “People don’t eat right any more, so it’s important to teach nutrition.”
She said the students look forward to Tucker’s lessons — partly because there is often food involved. The class has learned the difference between processed and whole foods, and has tried new foods like beets, which Preston said the kids loved.
Tucker likes to teach the kids through hands-on projects and tasting. Recently she made rainbow spring rolls with students, using a variety of colored vegetables. She explained the more colors, the more nutrients.
“I like the hands-on experience because that gives them a different way of learning,” she said.
Now that the weather is getting warmer, Tucker is designing her lessons to get students outside, digging in the dirt at Lakeside and cultivating Bigfork’s new school garden.
Tucker learned about the Food Corps program while studying at Harvard University, where she was active in the school’s community garden and lived in a residential co-op house.
“That was just a really amazing experience of how a community could be built around food,” she said.
Those experiences inspired her to join Food Corps and help children learn about food.
“I want them to have some idea of what real, whole food is, that nourishes them instead of just filling them up,” she said. She wants kids to have an appreciation of food, gardening and cooking. If you teach kids to like healthy food, they’ll be better off later in life, and hopefully they can take what they learn, and share it with their parents.
Food Corps doesn’t send service members out with any predetermined curriculum. They rely on input from local teachers in the schools. Tucker has been learning about Montana, and working with teachers and food service staff to tailor her teachings to each school.
“You can teach what you want to teach, which is great,” she said.
Teachers at Bigfork Elementary received a grant last year to do worm composting, so Tucker used that with her lessons.
And when Bigfork started serving local beef, which Tucker helped procure, she taught students about cows. “It can be a way of tying the classroom to the cafeteria,” she said.
She had them act out a cow’s digestive system. “They got a real kick out of that, especially when the grass turned into manure,” she said.
Tucker also works to bring healthy eating to schools on a broader scale.
She has been working closely with Cayuse Prairie school as they develop the lunch program they plan to initiate next year. Cayuse Prairie is also planning to build a greenhouse. Tucker has been helping to write grants to fund the project.
“That’s going to be kind of an alternative classroom,” she said. She also helped bring a program to Somers Middle School that provides underprivileged children with healthy food for the weekend, when they’re not in schools.
When the school year ends Tucker will continue working with summer programs like Bigfork’s ACES after school program and Somers’ children’s club. And while she won’t see as many kids through the summer she hopes the works from the school year will leave an impact.
“I hope to leave all kids with an awareness about what they’re eating and where it comes from,” Tucker said.