The Jones family farm has been around for generations "six to be exact "growing heirloom tomatoes, melons and lettuces near Huron, Ohio (pop. 7,958). While other boys were down at the swimming hole or playing baseball, Lee and Bobby Jones were picking green beans, driving a tractor, and learning how to plant potatoes and harvest Brussels sprouts.
Today, the Jones family operates The Chef's Garden, one of the nation's most successful specialty produce farms for professional cooks. Headed by Bob Jones Sr., the family also works with chefs nationwide through the nonprofit Veggie U to spread the word about the wonders of vegetables to children.
Soil, earthworms, seeds, grow lights, root view boxes and delicious vegetable samples are just part of the Earth to Table program, the fourth-grade curriculum kit Veggie U sent to more than 1,450 schools across the nation last year, with plans to be in 2,500 schools this fall. Kids follow seeds from the earth to the table as they learn about building a nutrient-rich soil, nourishing their bodies and creating tasty dishes that star vegetables.
"Not only are the students learning about the plant parts and functions, photosynthesis, soil and nutrition, but they truly become excited about the vegetables themselves," says Molly Pisano, a fourth-grade teacher at Woodlands Elementary School in Huron.
Philip Lenos, a fourth-grade student at St. Mary's Catholic School in Sandusky, Ohio, says that "from tasting the vegetables I discovered that there are a lot of different kinds of vegetables that I did not know existed that have fun flavors, especially the blue potatoes." His sentiment is echoed from 400 classrooms in Cleveland to rural schools in 22 states across the nation. Last year a pilot program for autistic students was developed and taught in 15 classrooms, with plans to expand to other students with special needs.
Bob Jones Sr. laments the fact that American children eat less than half the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables each day. "The majority of these youngsters have no idea that they have real and important life-changing choices in dealing with the food that they eat," he says. "These choices not only extend to the food items, but to where and how they are actually grown."
But through the work of Veggie U, he and the chefs he caters to are ensuring that more kids know that carrots are pulled from the soil, that green beans are plucked from bushes and that in the midst of conflicting health messages one thing is clear: We need to eat more fruits and vegetables.
Help Kids Eat More Vegetables
- Plant a garden together. Children love to watch buds sprout and vegetables grow in window boxes, deck containers or backyard gardens.
- Make vegetables accessible by setting out chopped fresh vegetables "such as red pepper strips "to munch on while preparing dinner.
- Encourage kids to participate in meal preparation.
- Continue to reintroduce vegetables to your children. Don't give up if they don't love a new vegetable on the first try.
- Be a good role model. Children aren't the only ones who are not eating enough fruits and vegetables.
- Make vegetables a star in your menu planning, not an afterthought. Don't be afraid to use fresh herbs or interesting spices to highlight the flavors.