Children at Iowa State University’s Child Development Laboratory School are learning lifelong lessons about local foods, thanks to a new partnership with the Good Earth Student Farm, located at the ISU Horticulture Research Station. Photo by Ryan Riley.

Laboratory School increases child wellness, education with local foods

As the stainless steel bowl full of veggies is set on the table, the toddlers start exploring. Through sight, smell, touch, and taste, they’re learning important lessons about local foods.

The project is part of an ISU Child Development Laboratory School initiative to bring more locally grown food to the school’s children. By purchasing a share in Iowa State University’s Good Earth Student Farm, the laboratory school receives a shipment of local produce each week, up until the first frost.

“Our partnership with Good Earth Student Farm allows us to serve new varieties of fresh produce more often, without the cost of purchasing the entire amount needed to meet Child and Adult Care Food Program requirements,” said Sara Sherman, the laboratory school’s storekeeper. “One of parents’ highest priorities every year has been the addition of more fresh fruits and vegetables.”

Lunchtime lessons

Sherman plans lunch and snack menus, orders food items, and prepares recipes for the laboratory school, which has provided a research-based learning environment for children since 1924. Sherman said incorporating vegetables from the student farm is a great way to teach children about the seasonal vegetables that are grown where they live.

Since receiving the first shipments of produce this summer, Sherman has made a variety of recipes, including tomato basil salad, dill pickles, beet salad, roasted squash, and sweet onion relish. Kimberly Venteicher, the laboratory school’s parent coordinator, said Sherman’s creations have been a hit with kids and parents alike.

“Parent response to our pilot program has been positive and supportive,” Venteicher said. “Parents comment on the delicious smells coming from the kitchen as the vegetables are roasted. We also hear comments like, ‘I never thought to buy sugar snap peas at home. I didn’t think she would eat them.’”

Venteicher said the vegetables aren’t just tasty — they’re a learning tool, too. For some children, exploring local foods has broadened their perspective.

“Many young children in urban areas think food comes from the grocery store,” she said. “By integrating the concept of locally grown food into the curriculum, our teachers are able to show our children that food is grown on a vine or in the ground. Having the ability to see, smell, and touch raw produce is a learning experience in itself.”

A lifetime of healthy eating and learning

Michelle Aderhold, president of the Good Earth Student Farm and a senior dietetics major, said she’s proud to be part of children’s learning and exploration.

“I’m so glad Sara Sherman approached me about purchasing a share for the laboratory school this summer,” Aderhold said. “Children need exposure to different types of vegetables at a young age to help them develop an appreciation for a variety of foods and healthy, lifelong habits. It’s vital to developing their food acceptance and setting them up for a lifetime of healthy eating.”

Aderhold said working with the laboratory school also falls directly in line with the student farm’s mission. She’s hopeful the partnership will plant seeds in the minds of future horticulturists (and future Cyclones).

“What the lab school has done really embodies what the Good Earth Student Farm is all about: education, awareness, and support of local food systems. It even opens a range of possibilities for children interested in horticulture.”