I typically save the title of my post until after I have written the body. This time, only one word came to mind once I was done tapping away furiously at the keyboard… busy.

This fellowship may be coming to its end, but my workload is certainly not. It seems like I almost have more work to do these last two weeks than I have in the past two months… or maybe its just because I never really envisioned the end when I started this journey.

My next two weeks will be occupied almost entirely by the Grow Me Strong & Healthy project. The Grow Me Strong & Healthy project is a comprehensive preschool nutrition education program being implemented by the Columbus Early Learning Centers (CELC). CELC is composed of four different preschool locations – Westside, Eastside, Northside, and Broad Street Infant and Toddler Center. Coincidentally, I worked in a classroom at the Northside center with OSU KidCorps during the 2009-10 school year. These four centers are low-income preschools, and serve populations that are disadvantaged in many areas.

The Grow Me Strong & Healthy program is based on nutritional research, principles of behavioral change, and a knowledge of early childhood education curriculum. It will focus on not only engaging children is healthy eating habits, but also their parents and teachers. The recent rise in childhood obesity has called for early learning centers to begin focusing on nutrition and food education, as opposed to putting on the back burner as they have in the past. This 24-week program will focus on a “seed to table” approach that allows the children to experience the entire life cycle of the vegetables they eat. Six target vegetables – swiss chard, carrots, green beans, butternut squash, tomatoes, and bell peppers – have been selected and planted by teachers and kids at each center. Many variables went into choosing these vegetables, including their affordability, availability, and versatility. The idea of the program is to not only to introduce children to new vegetables in a hands-on fashion, but to also encourage them to continue consuming them outside of the classroom.

One component of the project that I have been working on is the collection, editing, and distribution of recipes that include the target vegetables. Each recipe must be simple enough that the children can assist in following it, and the ingredients of each recipe must be accessible enough that families will actually be able to use them. Although I have found many recipes that are simple enough, I must be mindful of the nutritional value that each ingredient holds; it has been necessary to revise many of the recipes in order include low-fat and whole-grain options. I have been lucky enough to be working with nutritionists from Abbott Nutrition on this project, who are slightly more versed in the art of nutrition than I am.

A part of the Grow Me Strong & Healthy project I can truly call my own is the related craft activities that will be distributed to both classrooms and homes. I wish I could stick around for their implementation, but I am just hoping that I will have them done by the time I leave at this point. Developing and prepping five activities for these centers, which service over 300 children total, has been nothing short of overwhelming. I do have a background in early childhood education, but I have never worked on such a large scale before. Although I had a countless number of creative activities floating around in my head when I first read the grant proposal for this program, I have had to resort to only those that can be carried out universally among the centers. The age range for the children this program serves is three to five, which is a range that incorporates a vast number of differences in cognitive, physical, and emotional development. The activities must not only be skill-appropriate, but also interesting and engaging for each child.

I have learned from past experience in this area that it is easy enough to tell someone what to do, but giving them to tools to follow through is what really ensures that the task will be completed. For this reason, I have taken it upon myself to prep the materials for each and every activity I have created. This includes cutting out almost 500 vegetables that will be included in a grocery scavenger hunt, attaching velcro to 2,160 tiny vegetables that will be used on grocery shopping calendars, and laminating 432 cards that will be used in a vegetable memory-card game. Each activity will also include directions for teachers and parents. Some activities, such as the scavenger hunt and the memory game, will be implemented in the classroom, while others, such as the grocery shopping calendar, will be used at home. This will ensure that the children are learning the same things at home that they are in the classroom, which leads to healthier habits in all areas of their daily life.

While Grow Me Strong & Healthy is the most labor-intensive task I have on my hands right now, I am still working on the logistics of Market Days. We officially have 15 registered vendors, and the first day is slowly creeping upon us. Now come all the things I hadn’t considered before – marketing and set-up, for beginners. Now that I have gotten enough vendors to sign up for the event, it is my job to make sure that people show up. Farmers markets are typically held once a week during the summer and fall, so those that frequent them generally already have their shopping schedule set. The purpose of Market Days is to educate people who don’t know too much about farmers markets in the first place, so reaching out to them should be an adventure in itself. I have submitted information for print to the marketing office here at the Franklin Park Conservatory, so the next step is distribution and promotion.

These last two weeks will definitely be busy… I may have to consider upgrading the size of my coffee cup.

Susan Snyder, Franklin Park Conservatory

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