This is the story of a rising D.C. high school senior’s experience volunteering with the D.C. Farm to School Network, a program of the Capital Area Food Bank that works to get more healthy, local foods into D.C. schools. Bella Herold volunteered during a special event – Strawberries & Salad Greens – when the Network helped over 150 schools across the District serve fresh, local greens and berries into school lunches.
By: Bella Herold
At 6:30am on Tuesday June 1st, I sat in a van with Andrea Northup, Coordinator of the D.C. Farm to School Network, and her colleague Scott Lewis, Director of Food Services for a school food service provider, mesmerized as the D.C. highway slowly transitioned into a beautiful countryside: rolling hills and lots and lots of green. Within two hours, we saw plots of farmland, barns, cows, horses and rows of crops fill the landscape. We passed a horse-drawn carriage and Mennonite women in long dresses and bonnets going about their day.
By the time we arrived at the produce auction, the open-air marketplace was already filled with yards of fresh fruit and vegetables, hanging plants, carts of melons, lines of herbs and various plant varieties. Farmers unloaded and stood by the fruits of their labor, jubilant, smiling and eager to engage in conversation about their crops. Our mission was to purchase about 200 heads of lettuce for the D.C. Farm to School Network’s upcoming Strawberries and Salad Greens event. The greens would be served as part of school lunches in cafeterias across the District.
The auctioneer spoke into his microphone, quickly describing each item for sale, how many boxes of it you could buy and starting bids. Individuals signaled if they were interested in making a purchase, and, just as quickly as each sale began, it ended and the auctioneer moved onto the next item. A crowd of people gathered around the products and the auctioneer and we followed him from product to product. Andrea purchased Romaine, curly leaf, and red leaf lettuce, a few boxes of yellow squash, and several green cucumbers for a few schools. After some fresh pie and ice cream from the small food stand, we left and loaded up with boxes upon boxes of fresh produce in tow.
The next day was the Strawberry and Salad Greens Event. I volunteered at the E.W. Stokes Public Charter School, one of the schools that received lettuce from the Auction. I worked with two other volunteers to set up a table in the cafeteria before the first students arrived for lunch. We displayed a blossoming strawberry plant, a photograph of a strawberry farm and a lettuce farm, lettuce seeds, a small lettuce plant, a large head of lettuce, gardening tools, and a map of the local farms where the strawberries and lettuce from the kids’ lunch had traveled from with respect to the District. The students were served lettuce we had just bought from the auction and strawberries from a West Virginia farmer.
After eating their meals, students and teachers approached us and were pleasantly surprised by the small green strawberries growing on the strawberry plant. Some kids told us that their families had just started vegetable gardens at home and others stared in awe at the baby lettuce plant and tiny lettuce seeds. Enticed by their friends’ excitement and the promise of Strawberry and Salad Greens event stickers, more students approached us as we inquired how their salads tasted and explained where the food came from. Kindergarteners came to play with the gardening gloves and watering can, but stayed to examine lettuce seeds and the petals on the strawberry plant. One student ate her strawberries while peering at the strawberry plant in front of her. The students tasted the freshness and crispness that resulted from the hard work, effort and motivation the farmers put into their crops.
I will continue to volunteer with the D.C. Farm to School Network regularly in the upcoming months, and look forward to making events like this one successful. One thing I learned from the whole experience–hard work, effort and motivation tastes pretty good.