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Kids' University Teaches The Value Of Healthy Eating

Chances are, you’ve heard of AmeriCorps, the national service program started by President Clinton in 1993. But you might not have heard of Food Corps, an offshoot of AmeriCorps.

Food Corps volunteers work in local schools, teaching kids the value of healthy eating, drawing the connection between what’s in the soil and what’s on their lunch trays.

Jessica Manly of Kalispell is one of two Food Corps members who’ll be putting on a special half-day class called “Kids' University” at the Montana Organic Association’s annual conference, getting underway today in Great Falls.

“It’s actually pretty astounding how many kids haven’t yet made the connection that a lot of the fruits and vegetables that they’re eating are plants, and that grew on plants. Many don’t have a sense of what a fruit is or what a vegetable even is."

The idea for the Kids University came from MoneRae Tuhy, a board member of the Organic Association, who’s also a school volunteer, in Big Fork.

“I’ve been working with them for the last couple years at the big fork school garden,” said Tuhy. “They’re just absolutely wonderful in the classroom and teachers just find them invaluable in helping with the lesson plans in terms of food."

So she figured those same food corps volunteers could be put to good use at the Organic Association’s annual conference. Jessica Manly works mainly with elementary and middle school students, showing them where foods come from, and why eating the right foods is important.

“I teach nutrition classes, I teach garden classes, I work with the food service to get healthy and local food onto the school lunch menues.”

During the growing season, organizes a school garden that gives kids a chance to get their hands dirty.

“I mean pulling a carrot out of the ground or even watching middle-schoolers pull potatoes out of the ground, there’s this kind of amazing, almost ecstatic connection, they’re like, oh my gosh, these potatoes grew in the ground and I’m picking them and I’m going to eat them, like they just never connected those dots before."

For the Organic Association conference, Jessica and another volunteer are teaching a lesson in preparing home-made humus, and they’ll put on a skit that dramatizes the story of the typical tomato as it travels from the fields of Mexico to the vegetable aisle of your local market. It illustrates the value of buying local produce whenever possible.

Jessica Manly says Food Corps doesn’t specifically promote organic foods over conventionally-grown, but she finds the mission of the Montana Organic Association fits nicely with Food Corps.

"We teach everything from putting the seed in the ground, making healthy meals and about compost and decomposition, and building our soil back up with nutrients," said Manly. "So I think definitely the organic philosophy fits very nicely with what we teach in our Food Corps lessons.”

The organic association's MonaRae Tuhy says forty to fifty kids are enrolled in the first “Kids University”. If this trial-run goes well, it might be expanded from a single afternoon session this year, to the entire three day conference in the future.

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