Procuring Fresh Produce in Winter: An Opportunity for Discovery, Engagement and Learning
During the fall, Paterson Public School District’s Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program was an opportunity for kids to sample some of the best fresh produce New Jersey has to offer. United Way of Passaic County (UWPC) has played a large role in this effort to support local produce procurement, previously described here. But now it’s winter in New Jersey and the opportunities for procuring locally-grown fresh produce is, understandably, much more limited than it was a few months ago. While it is unfortunate that the school district is not able to procure fresh local produce year-round it also provides certain opportunities for experimentation, and for fostering engagement and learning.
Expanding beyond the kinds of fresh fruits and vegetables that would be available locally, the Paterson public school district under the guidance of UWPC has in the last three months been serving special produce items like plantains, mangos, guava, pomegranates, avocados and blood oranges. In observing holidays like Chinese Lunar New Year, the district has also served culturally relevant items like kumquats, which are traditionally eaten during New Year celebrations to symbolize prosperity. The motivations for offering so many different kinds of produce are two-fold. The first is that serving children non-local fruits and vegetables that are culturally meaningful to them can be an effective way of supporting healthier eating habits. Households, especially immigrant households, that commonly use these non-local produce items may be in a better position to incorporate them into healthy, culturally relevant dishes than other, local produce items about which they may have only limited knowledge. The cultural attachment to these non-local fruits and vegetables may also encourage kids to consume more of them, both for their taste and for the positive memories associated with them. The second motivation for wanting to offer so many different kinds of produce is that by introducing children to produce items they would not ordinarily be exposed to, it offers them the opportunity to discover new foods and break the redundancy of having the same kinds of produce every week. With non-local sourcing we’re able to bring in new produce items that may seem strange to some children, but that offer them the opportunity to experience the pleasant sweetness of a pomegranate for the first time, or the rich creaminess of an avocado. We are hoping that this will help keep kids engaged and excited as they wonder each week what new food their parents will be bringing home for them from the meal distribution.
While we eagerly await the return of the spring and being able to deliver to the children of Paterson locally-grown produce that is as fresh as possible, we also recognize the opportunities that winter provides us to deliver produce that isn’t local; produce that kids may enjoy trying again or for the first time. We are hoping in these last days of winter to also use the non-local produce as an opportunity for kids to learn about the cultural relevance of different fruits and vegetables for different people with the goal of fostering greater cultural understanding and appreciation.
About the Grantee
United Way of Passaic County is an organization committed to mobilizing the caring power of the communities it serves to tackle chronic issues, such as hunger and financial illiteracy. It is also involved in helping public schools with their food procurement to ensure kids have access to food that is safe, nutritious, and locally sourced.