The Cedaredge Elementary School (CES) community lives in a health paradox. Cedaredge and surrounding areas are host to numerous orchards that grow a wide variety of fruit. Yet, according to the Colorado Health Information Data Set (CoHID), 44.9% of adults in Delta County have multiple chronic conditions.
11.6% of families live in poverty and 23.1% of adults suffer from obesity. In 2017, 73.8% of adults in Delta County reported at least 1 chronic health condition and the numbers are trending up. In 2017, 52% of students had not eaten fruit, and 48% had not eaten vegetables, one or more times in a week (Health Kids Survey 2017). The CES School Health Advisory Committee (SHAC) strives to address this issue of compromised adult health by building a foundation of healthy eating for 411 elementary school students and their families through familiarity and introduction in their diet of a variety of vegetables. To that end, the CES SHAC created the goal that by November 2020, CES will increase weekly student consumption of vegetables by 3%.
Families and staff at the school report feeling overwhelmed with daily time constraints and are reluctant to introduce daily additional routines and healthy diet curriculum. Staff were incorporating a new district standards based platform, and were not enthusiastic about any additions to their curriculum. Hearing this concern, the CES SHAC focused on small interventions and proceeded with collecting data on types of vegetables and fruits students were familiar with, and what they reported currently eating. In addition, the committee provided short bursts of information for families in the form of weekly recipes utilizing easily obtainable produce, and provided growing salad kits and quarterly vegetable snacks for students were delivered with lunches. These accessible plans were put in place to grow stakeholder investment in the next stage of the plan: building and planting four garden beds at the school to promote healthy eating in the CES community.
The CES SHAC plan incurred numerous barriers to success this year. Recruitment of SHAC membership proved difficult. The plan was implemented by a small SHAC membership and suffered from lack investment from the overall staff. The school closure due to Covid 19 came just as vegetable snacks were to be served at lunchtime, and therefore there is no follow-up data as to how many students were served and the quantity of type of different vegetables that were eaten.
In November 2019, the Vegetable Preference Survey was given to 154 students, kindergarten through second grade. The Fruit and Veggie Survey was given to 173 third through fifth grade students. Results of those surveys were tabulated and less familiar vegetables and fruit were documented. Possible vegetable snacks were discussed with the cafeteria employees and the Parent Den. Vegetable purchases were budgeted in the SHAC plan.
In an attempt to garner SHAC plan interest from family and community stakeholders, weekly recipes highlighting seasonal produce (garden vegetables were used through the fall) were included in the CES Tuesday Express beginning in October. The Tuesday Express goes home to 411 students and their families and is also published on the school website. Feedback from the community on the recipes was excellent, with at least 10 parents and grandparents calling the school to express thanks.
SHAC representatives presented to the Parent Den at two separate meetings about the goal and mission of the committee where there were 10-15 parents and staff present. Parent Den representatives committed to providing vegetable snacks for the students at two lunches in March and May (unfortunately these events were during the school closure for Covid 19).
In March, SHAC advertised the Farm to School Garden Salad initiative, including seeds, soil, and containers, to CES families. Ten families picked up garden kits that were distributed at the school.
This year is universally recognized as unusual, however the SHAC sees several lessons learned from this year’s plan. The CES community seems thirsty for knowledge and familiarity with new and novel produce. The discussions while giving the Vegetable Preference Survey and the Fruit and Vegetable Survey were lively with student call outs about what they’ve tried, what their families serve and what they like and dislike. Students reported being enthusiastic to try new produce. Families were thrilled with easy to use recipes for produce they could get from area gardens or the grocery store. Parent Den members expressed excitement about contributing to a future school garden.
These signs bode well for the introduction of garden beds at CES next year and will serve as the primary sustainability factor. In addition, a tangible example of healthy eating will promote investment from CES stakeholders, improving SHAC recruitment. The CES community is poised to interact with the dirt, seeds and growing produce. CES students and their families look forward to increasing their familiarity and consumption of healthy produce.