The past four months of my current AmeriCorps term have been a whirlwind of challenges, accomplishments, and growth. As I continue my second year long AmeriCorps term at Veggielution Community Farm in San Jose, I am feeling a bit more settled into my role than I felt a year ago. This feeling of familiarity in my position has allowed for increased creativity in my daily tasks, creativity that I think has furthered the mission statements of all organizations involved.
My placement at Veggielution includes a vast multitude of tasks, from working out on a six acre organic farm, to teaching science and nutrition to elementary aged children. Day to day tasks can range anywhere from turning the 6ft by 6ft compost pile at the farm, to making salad with 4th graders. Because of the wide range of tasks required throughout my terms, I have learned to approach each day with a flexible mentality. I have learned to implement ideas from others, change things based on past experiences, and if all else fails, just go with the flow. I have learned that having a flexible attitude, guarantees the most positive and productive experience for everyone involved.
One of the projects I am most proud of during my current term has been the implementation of taste tests in the elementary school garden program at McKinley Elementary. The curriculum from this program was created about two years ago by a previous AmeriCorps member, and does an excellent job teaching outdoor science, language arts, and mathematics in a garden setting. After implementing the curriculum verbatim during my first term, I decided to follow the lead of another AmeriCorps garden educator at collective roots, and implement a daily taste test with each of my classes. The amount of time for each garden lesson had been extended by 15 minutes for the new school year, so I decided to spend that time getting children to try some fresh fruits and vegetables in addition to the outdoor science, language arts, and mathematics components. The children were weary of this idea, I will admit. Several students were looking at me with crazy eyes as I encouraged everyone to try every fruit of vegetable brought in. The idea was that as each child tasted the fruit or vegetable, they then are able to rate it using a “Rate the Taste” worksheet from the LifeLab garden program. This proved to be a great way to get the children tasting, because they were allowed to hate the vegetable if they wanted! If they tasted something that was gross to them, they could describe the taste as “terrible” or “nasty.” They were allowed to not like the fruit or vegetables! This was such a novel idea to them! So as students grabbed their sample of fruits or vegetable, fully ready to think of the grossest, nastiest adjective for their worksheet, many were surprised at how tasty the food really was! Lots of students said, “Hm, it’s actually good,” seemingly surprised that their taste buds didn’t scream for mercy as they popped another piece of beet in their mouth.
As a result of the implementation of the taste tests, I have noticed that students are much more excited to try food straight out of the garden, and also learn how to cook it. They also have come up with some pretty fancy words to describe fruits and vegetables, words that were inspired by the tastiness or sometimes bitterness of the foods they are trying. All in all, the taste tests were a compilation of ideas from those who have gone before me in the AmeriCorps journey. I am thankful for the sharing of resources that has occurred from past AmeriCorps members and current ones. Without it, I wouldn’t have the freedom to implement new ideas and explore my creativity through the context of my AmeriCorps position.