Brown School PTO aims to cultivate healthy eaters

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Kids learn a lot of important life skills in elementary schools: How to correctly brush their teeth. How to wait patiently for their turn to speak. And studies show early exposure to eating and growing vegetables and fruits can create lifelong healthy eaters; in Marblehead, a so-called delicious-education program, in part, aims to do just this.

Brown Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization members Cara Whelan, far left, Abby Brack Lewis, Meaghan DeSoto, Kristen Pratt and Nora Connerty volunteering during the November Harvest of the Month program. CURRENT PHOTO / WILLIAM J. DOWD

Every month during the academic year, Brown Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization members prepare the Harvest of the Month food and deliver it to the school’s classrooms. In October, kids tried pear chips, and the month prior: Tomato and cucumber salad. November’s harvest was kale.

“It tastes like spinach,” proclaimed a first grader in Judy O’Flynn’s class as she sipped a kale smoothie from a tiny plastic cup.

John Constantino, the new Marblehead Public Schools food service director, made the kale smoothies as part of the Harvest of the Month program.

“He mixed the kale with other things like fresh pineapple juice – which is so yummy – yogurt, milk and some butter,” Cara Whelan told third graders in Meghann Bruett’s class. “So, we’re getting many healthy ingredients in one little cup.”

She and Abby Brack Lewis left behind stickers and facts-about-kale cards, both rewards for tasting the kale smoothie. Lewis and Whelan were two of a handful of PTO moms who poured out the liquefied kale from a large pitcher into tiny plastic cups resting on a cafeteria table on a recent Wednesday morning.

“The Brown School PTO sponsors the Harvest of the Month,” said Brack Lewis, the PTO’s president. “The vegetables and fruits are somewhat seasonable and are dictated by Massachusetts Farm to School. They release a calendar with ideas, recipes and materials that we can distribute.”

Harvest of the Month is a statewide program under Massachusetts Farm to School, a Bay State nonprofit that “strengthens local farms and fisheries and promotes healthy communities by increasing local food purchasing and education at schools.”

The nonprofit connects the PTO and Constantino with area farmers. Whelan said Constantino designed “all the recipes that we’re using. John is really experienced in incorporating local ingredients into cafeterias.”

“This is about healthy eating habits and the enrichment for kids, but we’re also supporting local farmers, which is really important,” Whelan said. “So, instead of sourcing our bulk foods from somewhere far away or some bulk retailer, we’re actually financially supporting local farmers.”

Brown Elementary School Parent Teacher Organization members Meaghan DeSoto, far left, Cara Whelan and Abby Brack Lewis drop off kale smoothies during the Harvest of the Month program in November. CURRENT PHOTO / WILLIAM J. DOWD

And it’s not just crop farmers.

“[Massachusetts Farm to School] does things with dairy farmers and fishermen,” said Whelan. “Seafood was difficult for us to translate into the cafeteria, so we had a lobsterman come in and speak to the children and bring in a lobster trap.”

Marblehead Public Schools Superintendent John Buckey praised the PTOs for their support. That Harvest of the Month – which costs the Brown PTO about $1,000 annually – is a priority says a lot, he noted.

“It says they take nutrition seriously and want to make sure students have access to nutritious foods,” said Buckey. “And this gives students an opportunity to explore foods they might otherwise not have access to.”

Brown School Principal Mary Maxfield, like Buckey, agrees.

“Our parents and our community care about educating the whole child, including their health awareness,” she said. 

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