RIDGEFIELD — Wednesday’s lunch at Union Ridge Elementary School came with extra vegetables and a pop quiz, and the students were thrilled.
In honor of Taste Washington Day, Union Ridge students were treated to a visit from Jennifer Van Wey, owner of Quackenbush Farms in Ridgefield. In the back of the cafeteria, Van Wey set up a table with seasonal vegetables on display and handed out samples of sliced salad turnips, watermelon radishes, Easter egg radishes, orange carrots and purple haze carrots. She also asked the students if they could identify the vegetables on the table.
When students entered the cafeteria, most ran to the table to see what was going on. Van Wey told the students they couldn’t try the vegetables until they finished their lunch. The lunch was special, as well. The school offered chicken drumsticks, rosemary roasted potatoes, apples, red pepper hummus, celery and cranberries. When fourth-graders came to the cafeteria, one of the first students to get hot lunch plopped his tray down on the table and excitedly told his tablemates, “The lunch is going to be good today.”
“We’re trying to educate kids that food just doesn’t come from Fred Meyer or Safeway,” said Connie Vowels, Ridgefield’s food services director. “It’s grown locally.”
That’s why the district wanted to participate in Taste Washington Day, a joint effort of the state Department of Agriculture and Washington School Nutrition Association to celebrate locally grown food during the fall harvest season. It started in 2006.
Vowels said about half of the district’s ingredients come from Washington or Oregon. She said in her eight years in Ridgefield, the district has started using more scratch cooking for lunch and breakfast.
“We’re using more fresh herbs,” she said. “We’re cutting back on sodium and trying to help the students make healthier choices.”
Vowels said she also does a lot of sampling, so she was especially excited when Van Wey agreed to come back for her second straight Taste Washington Day.
“Everything starts with the youth,” Van Wey said. “It’s easier to get positive momentum (for healthy eating) if you start with the younger generation.”
During each lunch period for fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders, a group of at least 10 students stood in front of Van Wey’s table while she quizzed them on what vegetables she brought and handed out tiny plastic cups filled with samples of everything she and her husband, Matt Van Wey, grow at Quackenbush Farm, 2112 N.E. 189th St.
One fifth-grader was a bit hesitant and asked Van Wey what he should try.
“Try them all,” she said. “Be brave.”
Plenty of students dove right in, picking up dark pink slices of watermelon radishes and purple-skinned carrots with an orange center.
Fourth-grader Greyson Bockstadter, 9, said he liked the Easter egg radish, because it wasn’t too spicy.
One fifth-grader ran up to a friend, shook his shoulders and said, “You’ve gotta try the radishes and carrots. They’re delicious.” Then he sneaked a second helping.
Van Wey said she wasn’t sure which vegetable was most popular with the students on Wednesday, but she’s always surprised when kids like radishes. Vowels said she and Quackenbush have discussed the farm getting its Good Agricultural Practices certificate, which would allow the school district to purchase food from the farm.
Vowels said she’d like to form partnerships with Quackenbush and Northwest Organic Farms, also in Ridgefield, and take the students on field trips to the farms.