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Farms and food take center stage at North Gresham

Children at grade school learn about better eating, smarter choices during Farm to Market Day
by: John Klicker, Mark Jaspers picks out a leek from a table full of fresh vegetables to pass around to grade-schoolers on Farm to Market Day at North Gresham Grade School in Gresham on Friday, March 7. Jaspers, who says he grew up on a farm in Idaho, works with Nutrition Services in the Battle Ground, Wash., school district.

A controversy is slowly brewing among first-graders in the lunchroom at North Gresham Grade School on Farm-to-Market-Day March 7.

Lift-Off, a man-size blue star with arms and legs, is walking among them, giving them thumbs-ups when they eat healthy foods.

A god among mortals, Lift-Off is wildly popular with the children, who flock to it and seek the solar being's favor.

Jake Robideau says he likes Lift-Off 'because my favorite color is blue, and I love nutritious stuff.' He adds that he has eaten 'two things of grapes.'

However, it's not clear if Lift-Off is an actual blue star that has descended to earth or is a person in a costume.

Some of the children wonder how Lift-Off eats, though one boy concludes that if it does, the blue star must consume small portions. Others debate whether Lift-Off actually looks that way or wears a costume.

Wiatt Filter seems to have the final say.

'It's a costume to show off.'

Meanwhile, Ashley Barrera seems to have no time for the debate and points out that when her mom sleeps at her grandmother's, that's 'cool' because she gets to play with her friend, Jasmine.

Emily Mashir, however, brings the discussion back to Farm to Market Day, stating a claim no other first-grader dares to emulate.

'Today is the best day ever!' she says.

Why?

'Because of the miracle of food!'

Indeed, the miracle of food is today's theme at North Gresham, which is celebrating Farm to Market day in the cafeteria and gymnasium.

An old time music group plays for the lunchroom crowd, eating an array of grapes, kiwis and other tasty items. Next door in the gymnasium, David A. Short, the Gresham-Barlow School District's nutrition services director, is coordinating a group of presenters on various topics.

Each of the volunteers man colorful booths festooned with balloons in the shape of various fruits and vegetables. Short has brought the volunteers together from such organizations as the Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation and such school districts as Greater Albany, Salem-Keizer and Battle Ground, Wash.

The volunteers talk about crops grown in Oregon, different types of produce and healthy eating habits. Short wants to instill a love of good eating in the children.

'If I can get them to try it at a young age, maybe I can get them to grow up and make better eating choices.'

At one of the booths, the children learn how to make fruit smoothies, he notes.

'Kids can cook,' Short says. 'It teaches them self-esteem.'

First-grader Bryson Fredeen thoroughly enjoyed the booths.

'The vegetable stand was fun because you get to smell the fruits!'

After listening to the presentations, a group of fourth-graders sit down to talk about farms and food in their own lives.

Marcela Menera says her mother raised turkeys and chickens in California, though she admits she learned this secondhand.

'I can't remember because I wasn't born yet.'

Briceida Jimenez says her stepfather raises tomatoes, green peppers and cucumbers in a garden. She has plant-watering duties.

'I just get to go outside instead of staying inside because my brother watches TV, and it gets boring.'

Anthony Sanchez says his great-grandmother has raised eggplants and tomatoes. He adds that he learned a lot today.

'I never knew mushrooms grew in the dark. I thought they liked the sun.'

He says he wants to farm himself someday.

'I want to plant every kind of food to plant.'

He says he also enjoyed learning about plants he's never seen before.

'They look different and weird, like purple cabbages and purple potatoes.'

Tanner Owen says he wants to raise strawberries so he can make his own smoothies someday.

'They're really sweet.'

The children wear necklaces with small plastic containers of beans resting in wet cotton balls. They say they have to take the beans off in four days after they germinate.

'It's going to grow into a plant or something,' Briceida says. 'I hope something cool happens.'

The children's teacher, Debra Hagey, and student teacher,Stefanie Mallory both say they enjoyed Farm to Market Day and learned a few new things themselves.

Mallory adds that it's good to get the students out of the classroom doing new things.

'I liked that there was a lot of hands-on activities and visuals. It's another way of them learning.'