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Kids and seniors get a taste of local produce in King County programs

Preschool students in Beacon Hill cut up local, organic red potatoes on May 4, 2011. The potatoes are part of an effort to get more fresh produce into childcare and senior sites.
Charla Bear
Preschool students in Beacon Hill cut up local, organic red potatoes on May 4, 2011. The potatoes are part of an effort to get more fresh produce into childcare and senior sites.

Over the past few years, a lot of people have pushed to get local, fresh produce into meals at public schools. Far less attention has been focused on kids in childcare programs. That effort is finally underway.

Preschool students at Beacon Hill Community Day School Association (CDSA) in Seattle already eat fruits and vegetables. The program is required to serve them. The kids are pretty particular about which ones they like, though.

"I don't like carrots that much and I don't like tomatoes that much," says Clara Hanson. "I like mangoes and broccoli."

Adults think kids would enjoy more produce if they could taste it when it’s fresh. Most of what they eat at the preschool is canned or frozen.

Limited Resources For Food Choices

Catherine Willis Cleveland, director of development at CDSA, says the organization's budget is tight.

"We serve 70 percent low-income families and all but one of our schools is a Title I school in the most underserved communities in Seattle," she says. "We have to make choices about where we can allocate our funding resources, especially with all the cutbacks that we're experiencing."

A solution could come out of a pilot effort from Public Health - Seattle and King County. It received a $25.5 million federal stimulus grant to promote healthy lifestyles. The agency decided part of it should go toward getting local, organic farms to deliver produce to childcare and elderly programs.

Produce Deliveries Bring Hopes and Questions

Beacon Hill CDSA is one of 16 sites in the pilot. Its first delivery came from Full Circle Farms. The kids run up and thrust their hands into the brown, cardboard boxes full of potatoes, mixed baby greens, radishes, and carrots. It's as if the boxes were stuffed with toys. 

The adults are thrilled, too. Jamie Tarpley, the center director, says the produce gives them an opportunity to teach kids fruits and vegetables don't come from a can or bag.

Despite the excitement, fresh fruits and vegetables do present some challenges. Some kids, like Grace Yee, don't care for everything. She says the carrots are "icky" because they have roots. 

"I don’t ever eat that before," she says. "I never eat those roots before."

It could also mean an adjustment for staff members. They have to learn how to use organic produce before it goes bad. They also have to find a way to keep paying for the deliveries once the money from public health dries up. The farms do give them a small discount, but each program only received $200 to get started.  

Starting Somewhere

Natalie Thomson, of the Seattle Human Services Department, says while the money won’t supplement food budgets, it will at least spark some conversations about healthy habits. 

"The hope is that this will ignite people’s passion and people will see that perhaps this is something I can do," she says. "We know it’s important to make the healthy choice the easy choice. So, as a disease prevention strategy it’s crucial that we do this."

Charla joined us in January, 2010 and is excited to be back in Seattle after several years in Washington, DC, where she was a director and producer for NPR. Charla has reported from three continents and several outlets including Marketplace, San Francisco Chronicle and NPR. She has a master of journalism from University of California, Berkeley and a bachelor's degree in architecture from University of Washington.