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Estes Hills Elementary and Chartwells Child Nutrition Host All-Day Farmers' Market

After weeks of planning, the first all-day Farmers’ Market at Estes Hills Elementary School (EHES) on April 16 was a tremendous success. The markers of its success can be measured by the number of children who came home from school, excited about the vegetables they had tasted and “bought” from the Market. One parent reported her son had always refused to eat so much as a lettuce leaf at home, but he polished off a full salad that night.

EHES Mr. Pickle Aldi The Farmers’ Market represented an extensive collaboration among EHES parents and staff, the district’s team with Chartwells Child Nutrition, and Sustainability Program Manager, Dan Schnitzer, but there were other important partners, including Aldi US, who provided $1,000 in an Action for Healthy Kids grant. Aldi also sent their mascot, a volunteer who arrived dressed as the Garden Pickle. Mr. Pickle set up by the vegetable garden behind the school, and he helped students vote in the What to Plant Next tally for the new garden. Eight ALDI volunteers pitched in during the day, along with four volunteers from the Garden Club of Chapel Hill and numerous parent volunteers.

The blacktop was the site of the market which ran from 8:30 a.m. until 2 p.m. Director of Child Nutrition, Liz Cartano, choreographed and managed much of the produce exploration and “purchasing.” Every student received $4 in Market Money to spend on the available produce: Swiss chard, carrots, sweet potatoes, greens and other vegetables. Lynne Privette, the district’s registered dietitian, shared a booth with farmers from ECO and Your Local Greens, where students learned about the importance of fresh greens and cruciferous vegetables. Jordan Keyser, the district’s Chartwells chef, manned a sweet potato station all day, sharing tastes of three featured varieties and quizzing student tasters on their tuber knowledge. (Did you know sweet potatoes contain many nutrients to boost brain power?)

Keyser said, “It was incredibly refreshing to witness how kids were legitimately excited about trying new vegetables. We had dozens of kids asking for second helpings of the roasted sweet potato medley, which definitely was the highlight of my day. I think it goes to show that with the right framing, you can get kids excited about anything.”

All day throughout the Market, Cartano seemed to be everywhere at once, helping bag produce, checking in with the Aldi volunteers, and chatting with students about what they were learning and eating. She said, “The Nutrition Team really enjoyed the opportunity to engage, educate, excite, embrace and energize the students at Estes.”

EHES market with Jaclyn Later that week, several EHES parents reported Googling “how to prepare Swiss chard,” because their children were so eager to eat a “mess ‘o greens” for dinner. And throughout the Market Day, students could be seen munching on leaves, cucumbers and carrots, including one boy who declared, “This is the best day ever,” as he crunched his way through a huge, knobby carrot. Conversations about beet brownie recipes circulated later that week, without the usual scrunched noses and “Ewwww’s.”

Schnitzer helped with the planning from the beginning, and he recruited local, organic farmers to participate. He said, “The teachers and parents at Estes Hills have been working hard for years to build a strong garden program.” (Look for more on the EHES and other school gardens in a future Update article.)

Kathleen Eveleigh, EHES gifted education specialist, helped create and expand the school garden through the years. She wrote in a message to the district organizers, “It is days like the Farmers’ Market that make being a teacher so very special!  Thank you so much for all the hard work and dedication. You planted so many seeds today that will produce great things for years to come!”  

Joanna Lee-Bublitz was one of the lead parent organizers, and in an email to Cartano and Schnitzer, she wrote, “The visions you've created in your departments have made their way to our students - visions of supporting local farms, eating nutritious food (and loving it!), reducing food waste, composting and conservation. Chapel Hill-Carrboro schools are so lucky to have people like you in positions that make real positive change in the day-to-day lives of so many kids. Programs like yours are unheard of in other districts. People are stunned when we talk about the ideas you've brought to life here.”

Principal Pam McCann emailed a follow-up message to Cartano. “Thank you for helping our parents provide this awesome opportunity for our students! It surpassed my expectations. You and your dedicated team taught our Eagles so much. Many students said this was the best day ever, and I totally agree with them!!  Tonight at the Science Fair, many parents mentioned how much their child enjoyed the Farmers’ Market. One parent even showed me her red stained hands from cutting up the beets. Yes, they had beets and chard for dinner. Thank you for helping us create a memorable experience for our students.”