Willamette Primary students participate in a tasting of cherry tomatoes

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Jacob Khamphilauong, fourth grade, picks out a cherry tomatoes to try. Children are notoriously picky eaters. Especially if the food on the plate even remotely resembles a vegetable. But thanks to a program developed by the Oregon Department of Education, students at Willamette Primary School are expanding their palates.Last week, students participated in a schoolwide tasting of cherry tomatoes. Students chose from chocolate cherry tomatoes, cherry pear tomatoes and sun cherry tomatoes lined up in cute little baskets on a starry tablecloth in the cafeteria. The tasting was offered through the ODE program Oregon Harvest for Schools.

Oregon Harvest for Schools is a resource for Farm to School and School Garden programs. The program promotes healthy food choices, teaches students where food comes from and supports local growers by highlighting a fruit or vegetable in the school each month. September Harvest of the Month was tomatoes. Willamette Primary School will offer the program throughout the 2012-13 school year.

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - Fourth- grader Maximus Doman offers a tomato to third-grader Dale Herman. Each month, a different class will learn about the highlighted fruit or vegetable, make posters promoting the crop throughout the school and host a tasting. The tasting will feature locally grown produce from students, parents, teachers and other local growers. Students from Katy Tibb and Tina Allahverdian’s fourth-grade classes were the first group to participate. Fourth-grader Charley Lotspeich, 9, said he likes tomatoes plain or in salsa.

“I can’t really describe what they taste like, I just like them a lot,” he said. His classmate, Carly Shanklin, 9, agreed.

“They taste unique,” she said. “I can’t place the flavor. At first I thought the pear ones tasted like beef. ... Some kids don’t like them because after you’ve eaten a lot, you get sick of the tomato-ey taste.”

“But some kids want to come up and get more,” chimed in fourth-grader Averie McCurry, 9.

Tibb was one of a handful of teachers from Willamette Primary School who attended a seminar about Oregon Harvest for Schools. Tibb said educators learned about Farm to School programs and how to incorporation harvest information into science classes and use it as an extension of the curriculum. Although Willamette Primary School does not have a school garden, Tibbs said the Oregon Harvest for Schools program is a good start.

by: TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE  - Third-grader Napa Ayach enjoys a fresh cherry tomato.“In conjunction with a school garden, this exposes children to new fruits and vegetables,” Tibb said. “The coolest thing about this project is that all the food is grown in teachers’, parents’ and students’ backyards.”

Before handing out a sample, fourth-graders told other students a tomato fact. The facts of the day included: Tomatoes are a fruit, not a vegetable; tomatoes are originally from Mexico; California grows the most tomatoes; and tomatoes help prevent cancer.

Fourth-grader Jacob Washam, 9, can’t quite put his finger on it. He knows he doesn’t like tomatoes, he just doesn’t know why. He said he tried a tomato for the first time when he was 2 years old. He didn’t like them then, and he doesn’t like them now. Jacob Khamphilavong, 9, agreed.

“I don’t like tomatoes,” he said. “They taste really soft and I don’t like the flavor.”

Melisa McCurry was one of two parents who volunteered at the tasting booth. McCurry said tomatoes are her daughter’s favorite food.

“There are a lot of brave kids today,” she said. “The red cherry tomatoes have been the most popular, but I did hear lots of kids say they didn’t like them.”

Despite a few frowns, McCurry said the program is encouraging.

“I like that it makes kids try something so different and fresh,” she said. “Most of these kids aren’t exposed to food and farming. It’s a lost art and I think they should appreciate that lost art.”

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