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Fresh Fruits and Vegetables abound in Camp Lejeune Dependent Schools

October 11, 2010

For more than two decades, Camp Lejeune Dependent Schools (CLDS) has incorporated fresh local fruits and vegetables into their school meal programs. CLDS, which opened in 1951, is located on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune near Jacksonville, North Carolina. The district's seven schools are operated by the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) and have a total enrollment of 3,300 students.

Jan Holt has been the director of the CLDS Child Nutrition department for over 30 years. Jan's enthusiasm about getting "the freshest, most nutritious, high quality food at the lowest cost to the children" is what motivated her to procure fruits and vegetables from local farms for the past 21 years.

Jan believes teaching children about fresh produce is an integral part to increasing their fruit and vegetable consumption. The USDA Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program partnered with CLDS to provide funding for annual day trips to Bucks Corner Farm - a Peletier, NC farm that has been around since 1929. Students spend the day picking berries and listening to Jerry Meadows, the grandson of the farm's founder, talk about the use of plants to shade watermelons; the benefits of crop rotation; the decreased water usage associated with underground irrigation; and his favorite method for cooking corn - in a microwave. Jerry enjoys pointing out different foods that will eventually make their way onto the students' lunch trays. The kids are always excited to make the connection between the abundant fields of thriving plants and the food they are served in school

In 2008 CLDS won the NC Fruits and Veggies Nutrition Coalition Gold Star Award. The district used the money from this award to fund a district-wide health fair. Culinary arts students selected fruits and vegetables to feature in a recipe and presentation. Students and their parents were encouraged to attend the health fair and take home the student-made book, "The Veggies and the Fruits Recipes". This book includes recipes for kiwi sorbet, broccoli and chicken macaroni, crispy turnip fries, Brazilian collards and many other plant-based dishes.

CLDS students in preschool, kindergarten and first grade have the opportunity to care for a school garden. Students in the garden club plant seeds, pick weeds, water the plants and proudly taste the fresh produce they helped harvest. Educational experiences such as these - farm field trips, health fairs, and school gardens - contribute to students' interest in fruits and vegetables.

If a new food is served to children more than once, Jan believes they will eventually try it. Years ago, Jan was met with resistance when she decided to include broccoli in the school lunch program. CLDS food service staff members said without hesitance, "the kids won't eat that." The first couple of times broccoli was served, the students did not eat it. Jan remained persistent, however, and eventually the students began to eat and enjoy the broccoli (which is now a "school favorite"). When asked which fruits and vegetables the students liked most, Jan listed: watermelon, cantaloupe, corn on the cob, sliced cucumbers with low fat ranch dressing and grape tomatoes.

CLDS provides an excellent model for successfully improving students' interest in fresh fruits and vegetables. The program's success is due to experiential education, persistence and access to high quality produce from local farms. CLDS is currently in transition to accommodate a new state policy requiring farms to be GAP (Good Agricultural Practices) certified. Bucks Corner Farm, one of the district's primary sources of local produce, is in the process of getting GAP certified so students can continue to enjoy the farm's fruits and vegetables in their lunch program.

For more information about the Nutrition Program at Camp Lejeune Dependent Schools, please contact Jan Holt.

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