|Photo by Hither and Thither|
Eating seasonal produce grown close to home is an important contribution that anyone can make to a healthy local food system. As an added bonus, seasonal produce is fresher, tastes better, and is often cheaper than its out-of-season counterparts. However, feeling comfortable identifying, purchasing, and preparing produce that’s in season is not a reality for many people.
Education is a key piece to building a healthy and conscious community. Nutrition education can be incorporated into any subject matter. There’s no doubt that it is beneficial to expose children to various fruits and vegetables and healthy lifestyle choices at an early age. According to Champions for Change, research has shown that eating a colorful variety of fruits and vegetables and getting at least 60 minutes of physical activity daily helps children to maintain a healthy weight and lower risk for serious health problems.
Harvest of the Month aims to increase access, preference and consumption of local and seasonal produce. The primary audience is students of any age, but there are also components included for use with families and communities. The program was originally created by several local school districts in California as part of a broader nutrition education program targeting low-income students, but was launched as a statewide effort in 2005 by the California Department of Public Health. Harvest of the Month features resources that can be used in a wide variety of settings including schools, daycares and farmers markets, to name a few. These materials include tasting recipes, history, nutrition information, family and community newsletters (in Spanish and English), and activities relating to the featured produce.
Harvest of the Month currently reaches 2,900 students in Del Norte schools each month. The program in Del Norte is supported by the Community Alliance for Family Farmers (CAFF) and sources produce from local growers whenever possible. This creates and builds upon partnerships between growers and the greater community, while creating long-term sustainability. Since the implementation of the program, an increase in consumption of fruits and vegetables over the course of one school year has been recorded by surveying 4th, 5th, and 9th grade students.
The Harvest of the Month Program was funded in the past by the Network for a Healthy California. However, they have shifted their focus away from schools and these funds are no longer available to support this program. The Community Food Council for DNATL, along with CAFF and the Del Norte County School District, has been committed to ongoing efforts to keep Harvest of the Month in our schools. These efforts have included creating community partnerships, fundraising, exploring alternative funding sources, and spreading the Harvest of the Month message to the whole community.
In addition, the Food Council is working in partnership with SNAP-Ed at the Department of Health and Human Services to implement new Harvest of the Month Programs and expand those that already exist in Home Daycares, Preschools and Head Starts in DNATL. We have created a resource guide for the Harvest of the Month Program that can be used by 0 to 5 providers. The guide includes tasting recipes, educator guides with produce information, physical activity for the classroom, and poems about enjoying seasonal produce. The Food Council recently attended the Child Care Council’s Annual Home Daycare Providers Conference and gave fifty-eight copies of our resource guide to the Home Daycare Providers in DNATL. We are also providing all of the preschool and head start providers with resource guides for the upcoming school year. One of the goals of the Food Council in the coming year is to support 0 to 5 providers in effectively using these resource guides and being able to more easily incorporate the Harvest of the Month Program into their already packed curriculums.
The Community Food Council is working to build a vibrant and sustainable food system in DNATL in various ways. Through promoting the Harvest of the Month program, we are aiming to have a positive influence on students and their families. The larger goal is to ensure that they will be surrounded by healthy choices and possess the knowledge and skills to support a nutritious and active lifestyle for years to come.