With our fifth year of Food Day celebrations behind us, we thought we would take a few minutes to reflect on how Food Day, and its mission, ties into who we are and what we do here at the Green Heart Project.
Starting in 2011, Food Day was created as a way to inspire Americans to improve their diets and local, state, and national food policies for the better. So on October 24th of every year, tens of thousands of Americans participate in local events aimed to celebrate healthy, affordable, and sustainable food, and make conscious choices about what they eat. Observing Food day can be as simple as making a small change, like drinking water instead of soda, serving up more fruits and veggies for your family, or, like us, you may celebrate in a big way!
For the past five years our Food Day celebrations have centered around Sweet Potatoes.
Sweet potatoes have been grown and eaten throughout American history. This native plant of central and South America was domesticated in Central America at least 5,000 years ago and have been stable crops in tropical and warm temperate regions since. The first recorded Europeans to taste sweet potatoes were members of Christopher Columbus’s expedition in 1492. Sweet potatoes are popular around the world and have been an important part of the diet in the United States for most of history. Here in Charleston, the climate fits the perfect conditions for sweet potato growth
Not only are sweet potatoes an important part of U.S. history, but from a public health perspective, they are extremely beneficial to human health. Sweet potatoes are extremely high in Vitamin A, which is great for skin, eyes, and overall health. They also contain vitamins C and B6, potassium, and manganese, all of which are beneficial to our immune systems and blood. Sweet potatoes also contain fiber that helps our bodies to absorb the natural sugars in a beneficial way.
With all their healthy benefits and the ideal climate in Charleston for their growth, sweet potatoes are a great food to make part of our school garden programs, not only as a part of food day – but all year!
Every spring, we plan sweet potatoes in our gardens with our students. They learn about proper gardening techniques for planting the sweet potatoe plugs, ensuring they get enough water and space. During the summer, while our students are on summer vacation, our sweet potatoes thrive, covering our beds, soaking up the sun (and helping to mitigate some of our garden work for the summer!).
Then, when our students return in the fall – October comes around…which is a big month! October is both National Farm-to-School Month and the month of Food Day and harvesting sweet potatoes is a great way to spend it. Our students take part in the digging the potatoes out of the ground, washing them, weighing them, and seeing what their seedlings were able to produce! Our potatoes cure for 2-3 weeks and then are used in our programs to teach our students about how to make sweet potato chips. The rest of the sweet potatoes go to the school cafeterias to be used in school lunches.
In the spirit of Farm-to-School Month, our kiddos are engaged with the production of the food they are consuming from start to finish, and in the spirit of Food Day they are celebrating food that is locally sources, healthy and sustainable!
This year our sweet potato harvest totaled 330 pounds across our 5 school garden programs – meaning that in all we’ve harvested over a whopping 1,500 pounds of sweet potatoes!!!
And as to where many of our harvested sweet potatoes from this year went? … That’s right… Food Day!
At 6:30am on October 24th, our Executive Director, Drew, got into the kitchen at Mitchell Math and Science Elementary School to help with Food Day preparations. With the Charleston County School District Food Nutrition Services and the fabulous cafeteria staff at Mitchell Elementary lead by Inez Washington, Drew helped to chop and prepare the sweet potatoes. The kitchen staff, along with Drew’s helping hands, put the sweet potatoes onto trays and cooked them up in time for lunches!
The kids at Mitchell, both those who took part in the production of the potatoes and those who don’t take part in Green Heart, were able to enjoy the delicious fall harvest!
Our Food Day, and month of October as a whole, was a huge success and we’re so thankful for all those who helped make it possible. We’re counting down the days until we begin the sweet potato process again!