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Who wants a kumquat? Non-profit exposes kids to seasonal food

Friday, January 20, 2012

Chef Melissa Graham helps even the pickiest of eaters learn to love veggies and fruits.

Through her non-profit, Purple Asparagus, Graham teaches children, families and communities how to be good to their bodies and the planet.

"The funny thing about the kumquat is it's not just the name," Graham tells kindergartners, some of whom have never seen a kumquat, at Polaris Charter Academy. Then- the taste test. She said, "You're going to eat the whole thing- the seeds, the skin."

Founded in 2005, Purple Asparagus is a hands-on food literacy program.

"Our mission is that we educate children, families and the community about eating that's good for the body and the planet," Graham said. "We're very committed to local foods to organics although we're not really coming in and saying eat local foods, eat organic foods, but that's the kind of food that we're bringing in here."

Graham believes that exposing young children to a wide variety of fruits and vegetables will help them connect to nature and influence their families to eat more healthily. it also reinforces what the youngsters are learning in class.

"We are an expeditionary learning school, which means we study one topic for an extended period of time and so we're just finishing up studying a unit on good health," Nora Ryan, teacher at Polaris, said.

Graham's lesson is on the five types of citrus fruits. Students get to sample some of them whole, like the citrus maximus, but others were used in recipes.

"I think it was a big, huge orange," Andre McKennie Jr., 5, said.

"I tried all of them because we eat blood oranges for lunch," Jayla Brown, 7, said.

The educators agree that using all of the senses helps the students to experience the lesson -- even when the reaction is unexpected.

"It was so sour but at first I didn't like it, but I tried it and it was so good," Cadarion Nevels, 5, said.

Purple Asparagus visits about 30 Chicago public schools a year -- most of them on a monthly basis. Every month there's a new curriculum about a different family of seasonal fruits or vegetables. Find out about the program or suggest a school at PurpleAsparagus.com.

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