In an effort to combine emphasis on eating healthy in schools with the urge to buy local, the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets is now offering produce trading cards online, available to print at home.
The trading cards feature nine fruits and vegetables grown in New York, with full-color drawings by local graphic designer Alice Bernat on the front and facts about the product on the back. Each card includes a catchy slogan, such as “Nosh on Squash” and “Gobble Grapes.”
The cards came out last year, but state budget cuts and increasing interest has compelled the department to offer them online.
“Demand for these has gone crazy,” said Jessica Zeihm, director of communications for the state agriculture department, Albany. “I have seen them traded. Kids get excited about using them. It was one of those deals, a crazy idea one day when we were thinking of things to do for Farm to School.”
Farm to School is a nationwide program that began in 2000, and was adopted in New York in 2002. The program strives to support local growers in each state, offer healthy meals at schools and increase knowledge about nutrition and state agriculture.
“A lot of schools were already doing it because it’s the most logical, easiest thing to do,” Ann McMahon, Farm to School coordinator at the department, said. “They know it’s important to feed kids fresh, nutritional meals and to help the local economy.”
So far, 80 New York school districts have ordered resources, reaching about 82,000 children, Ziehm said. However, she added, many schools have their own independent but similar programs.
Along with these cards, the department’s website includes classroom lesson plans with 20-minute activities. McMahon points out that the lesson plans and cards lend themselves easily to cooking classes, farm field trips, nutrition classes, lunchtime rewards, as well as cooking and grocery shopping outside of schools.
Outside of schools, Ray Denniston, special project coordinator for Broome-Tioga Board of Cooperative Educational Services, Binghamton, N.Y., uses the cards at farmers market groups and conferences. He also hopes to have them available for Growing Healthy, a festival in October dedicated to bringing health and agriculture together. Denniston says he wants to distribute them not only to children, but parents and other consumers.
“Really they’re so diversified,” Ziehm said. “They encourage people to use creativity. They’re just a tool, a resource. It’s not a cookie-cutter program.”
Denniston said he is working with McMahon to create new trading cards with other products.
“There are no other easy, fast educational tools that are as simple as this,” Denniston said.
The department also offers coloring books, harvest charts, trivia and games on the web site.