Farm to School Taste Tests a treat for students

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The following story was written by Candice Wagener:

Have you ever seen a Beauty Heart Radish, which looks like an all-white turnip on the outside but is a spectacular bright pink on the inside? Did you know there are Regent and Empire varieties of apples? Have you tasted bright pink hummus made with beets?

If your children go to Sauk Trail, Elm Lawn, Northside, Sunset Ridge, Park or West Middleton elementary schools, chances are they would answer ''yes'' to all of those questions, or at least be somewhat familiar with the products, thanks to the Farm to School Taste Tests, which are held in the lunchroom once a month, October through April.

To see more photos from a taste test at Sauk Trail, please visit the District's Facebook page.

Not only does the Farm to School program aim to expose students to fruits and vegetables that may be unfamiliar to them, but it also promotes locally-grown farms. All of the products used in the taste tests are from Wisconsin farms, most within 30 miles of Middleton.

The majority of the prep work for the Farm to School Taste Test products is done in the MCPASD’s Central Kitchen facility before being delivered to the elementary schools, where parent coordinators portion out and offer samples to every child in the lunchroom. Staff often take part in the sampling, too!

Farm to School coordinators work to educate the school about each taste test item, creating awareness about where that particular fruit or vegetable was grown in the state, as well as the health benefits and history behind each fruit or vegetable. For instance, February’s taste test was “Heart Beet Hummus” because beets promote heart health, the perfect accompaniment to a month dedicated to heart health awareness.

Students are encouraged, not required, to try the foods. Coordinators make the taste tests fun by handing out stickers to students and taking “like it or leave it” type polls throughout the course of the lunch period.

There is always a sense of accomplishment when students proclaim liking something they were unsure of just minutes before. During the recent beet hummus taste test, a parent told the Sauk Trail Farm to School coordinator that her son “stuck out his tongue” when she told him what the sample would be as she sent him off to school. Five hours later, that same student was coming back for his fourth helping. Mission accomplished!

Parents are always welcome to join their children in the lunchroom. The next Farm to School Taste Test is set for Wednesday, March 18.