FLINT, MI – Students gather around tables early in the morning in the Durant-Tuuri-Mott Elementary auditorium, enjoying yogurt parfaits on one of their last days of school. Not so long ago, many of these students would not have entertained the idea of eating yogurt with fresh fruits and granola.
“It’s satisfying to see them respond positively to healthy food,” says Sarah Schroeder, 25, of Flushing, one of five FoodCorps service members working in Flint—the largest cohort assigned to a single city in the state. Originally it was thought to be the largest in the nation, but there are a few larger.
FoodCorps, a part of the AmeriCorps service network, has been operating in Flint since 2010 working through the Crim Fitness Foundation to provide nutritional education in all 12 Flint Community Schools buildings. They operate community gardens, bring in taste tests, and even weigh in on healthy lunch options.
“Parents love the fact that there are fresh vegetables at each one of the schools,” says Sharon Davenport, who oversees FoodCorps as program director of physical activity and nutrition for the Crim. “They utilize it too. A lot of them will go out to the gardens and weed and take fresh vegetables home.”
The program started in Flint with one FoodCorps service member but grew fivefold in response to the Flint water crisis. A balanced diet is being promoted as one key way to counteract the effects of lead exposure in children.
They work to help younger students build healthy eating habits as well as educate parents and family members. A key part of that program is the community gardens, located at every Flint Community School and also includes multiple hoop houses throughout the city.
Vegetables such as tomatoes, corn, radishes, squash, zucchini, leafy greens, potatoes and sunflowers pop up throughout the growing season. The harvest is never sold — instead used for schoolwide taste tests, given to students, even handed out door-to-door in the neighborhoods.
The gardens continue to be cultivated throughout the summer, by both staff and community volunteers.
Today’s lesson begins when Schroeder brings out a covered storage bin. She opens it to reveal a small compost pile full of newspaper shreds, dirt, and earthworms. A bit shy at first, the students eventually agree to hold the worms. Then, the students begin bombarding “Ms. Sarah” with a flood of questions and a few worm stories of their own.
Then, one student started talking about how the earthworms’ bristles help them move and how each worm has five hearts — repeating (to Schroeder’s delight) a lesson the girl heard early during Schroeder's breakfast club meeting.
Schroeder has been teaching at Durant-Tuuri-Mott since August. Each service member has an 11-month service period with the option to do another term immediately afterward, which Schroeder will be doing.
“It’s good for the kids to have a positive role model two years in a row,” she smiles.
For more information visit: www.foodcorps.org