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FoodCorps North Carolina: Growing Healthier Kids One Bite at a Time

By FoodCorps NC | November 20, 2014 | Corporate Citizenship

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What is FoodCorps? Put simply, it’s a nationwide team of AmeriCorps leaders that connects kids to real food so they can grow up healthy. FoodCorps service members in North Carolina have served with their local community partners to build 28 new school gardens across the state — and that’s in addition to teaching 30,000 kids where real food comes from and how to prepare it, and harvesting 3,200 pounds of produce together.

Sure, the numbers in North Carolina and across the country are certainly impressive. But I want to tell you the real stories of students who are slowly changing their eating habits for the healthier.

Like the 2nd grader in Cherokee who had never tried an apple — and now he doesn’t like them, he “loves” them.

Or the high-schooler in Wilson, who after a salsa-making demonstration, took home tomatoes from the school garden to make salsa for her family.

Or the elementary class out in Wilmington who got to taste cherry tomatoes right off the vine, and then began stuffing them in their pockets for later.

Leroy: From Food Skeptic to Champion

Changing behavior does take time, and it certainly takes persistence. And while serving my two years in Warren County, I saw just how long this could take when I met Leroy.

Leroy, dressed as a radish -- sharing his newfound veggie love. Image: FoodCorps North Carolina
Leroy, dressed as a radish — sharing his newfound veggie love. Image: FoodCorps North Carolina

Leroy is one of those students who immediately stole my heart with his smile and positive attitude. But when I first taught his class, he wouldn’t get near any food that wasn’t a chicken nugget, French fry, or maybe a banana on a good day. No matter what fruit or vegetable we tasted he would barely touch his tongue to it, and start making gagging motions.

It was during these moments when I truly wondered if I’d ever make a difference.

After about a year, we harvested watermelon from the garden. He tried a bite (didn’t gag), and said he liked the taste but not the texture. He then proceeded to juice 3 or 4 watermelon slices into a glass for drinking. “Okay!” I thought, “We’re getting somewhere. “

Fast forward to this year, and one of our service members in Warren County has helped Leroy shift from wearily trying new foods to being one of the class’s biggest advocates. He has tried apples, radishes, and collards, enthusiastically approving the first two.

Just the other day his class tasted radishes pulled from their garden, and Leroy was their unrivaled champion.

Seeing a classmate eye the radish warily, Leroy placed his hand on her back, and said, “It’s okay, I mean you have to at least try it, because otherwise you will never know!”

Changing Perceptions One Bite at a Time

There is no one ingredient or magic recipe that will instantly change a child’s perception about real, healthy food. It takes constant exposure and encouragement, and a lot of positive experiences. Our service members across the state are providing those experiences for children, and healthier attitudes are starting to take hold.

Four years ago, our North Carolina program started with 6 service members serving in as many service sites around the state. Thanks to the support of BCBSNC to expand our work in North Carolina, this year we have 14 service members at 9 different service sites throughout the state, delivering garden-based nutrition education to students, working with farmers to connect them to schools, and organizing their community around healthy school initiatives. FoodCorps North Carolina is part of the larger Farm to School Coalition of NC, and is hosted by the Center for Environmental Farming Systems and NC 4-H. For more information on FoodCorps North Carolina, contact Caroline Stover, or visit their website.