Students taste fruits of their labor after a year of gardening vegetables

Published 7:00 am Thursday, May 18, 2017

During this school year, Poplarville Lower Elementary garden club students have been busy tending the vegetable and herb garden to hold an end of the year salsa party.
Wednesday afternoon, the students tasted the fruits of their hard work and learned from Oak Crest Mansion Inn Chef Jean Paul Lavallee how eating healthy can be fun.
“As a chef, we enjoy working from the farm to the table and it is very important for children to understand that process as well as appreciate it in order to live healthier lifestyles,” Lavallee said.
As the kindergarten through second grade students anxiously waited to taste the results of their hard work, Lavallee was preparing three different plates in the kitchen using the vegetables they grew, including caprese salad, salsa and mint-infused sweet tea.
“The ingredients they grew in the garden are magnificent,” Lavallee said. “They are fresh. You can tell these vegetables were loved.”
Initially, when the students were handed the caprese salad, containing a fresh slice of mozzarella, olive oil and sliced tomatoes that came from the garden, they were skeptical how it would taste. However, after explaining fun ways to think about the dish, the students dove in, most with smiling faces, nodding their heads in approval.
“It’s all about trust with kids, and they start out scared when you introduce them to new types of food. But if you can make it fun for them, they will continue to try more things and build healthy eating habits early on,” he said.
Lavallee described the caprese salad to one of the initially apprehensive students as a pizza without the crust. After a second bite the student enjoyed the dish.
Making healthy dishes fun for kids can be an easy process, Lavallee said. Parents just need to start simple and slowly expand. One of the best ways to make eating healthy foods fun is to carve vegetables and fruits into animal shapes.
“It sounds difficult, but carving fruits and vegetables is simple,” he said. “Eating is one of the most important things in life and if children understand not only how to enjoy healthy eating habits but also how to grow their own vegetables and fruits, it can change lives and even open up doors for their futures.”
The Poplarville Lower Elementary garden was a group effort from the community that started with a grant from the Mississippi State Extension Office and involved donations from local businesses like Longleaf Farm and Garden and volunteer efforts from Poplarville High School students.
As the garden enters its second year, the school hopes to expand it so more students can participate, learn about growing plants and experience fun and different ways to eat them, Poplarville Lower Elementary Principal Candace Henderson said.

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