Exciting advances are on the horizon for Harvest for Healthy Kids, an effort led by both Portland State and Mt. Hood Community College’s Head Start preschool programs that educates low-income children and their families about eating healthy with locally grown produce.
Just last month the program gained a new sponsor, the Wal-Mart Foundation, which awarded the program with a $98,608 grant.
Beginning as a research study, this program has been a combined endeavor that paired Betty Izumi, professor in PSU’s School of Community Health, and Dawn Barberis, the associate director of administrative services at MHCC Head Start, as co-directors.
“We have been working together for four years to develop, implement and evaluate the program,” Izumi said.
Harvest for Healthy Kids begins its work inside the classroom with curriculum directed toward children ages 3 to 5 in the Head Start programs throughout Multnomah County. The various activities are implemented weekly and include games, worksheets and even vegetable taste-testing. Each month also introduces a new vegetable.
A sub-program was put into play just this year that promotes nutrition in the homes of these families.
Home programs became available this year, serving families with children up to 3 years old free of cost. The curriculum differs in that Harvest representatives are able to teach parents who may lack the tools to access healthy and locally grown foods on their own directly. Lessons about nutrition and demonstrations on different ways to prepare the vegetable of the month are brought straight to their doors.
With the grant from Wal-Mart, Harvest for Healthy Kids plans to expand and enhance various areas of the program. Barberis described just a few of these plans.
“We have low-quality books and with money, we will be able to enhance those while developing tool kits and gaining access to supplemental books and extensive library options. Cooking kits are another option because, right now, we have to share a lot of materials,” Barberis said. “And a website is to come to show how we implemented curriculum in the classroom.”
Izumi also discussed the significance of their prior sponsors in making their efforts such a success.
“It is important to know that Kaiser Permanente and Meyer Memorial Trust also are funders,” Izumi said. “In fact, we just received another grant from Kaiser Permanente to disseminate Harvest for Healthy Kids to a broader audience that include early care and education professionals and stakeholders across the country.”
Confirming that Harvest for Healthy Kids has made an impact on children’s preferences, Barberis shared her observations.
“Evaluation shows that children are more willing to try and like the food. We have some children who only tried the food without any other curriculum and we have other children who got the curriculum, but didn’t try the food,” Barberis said. “The ones who got it all showed the biggest gain.”
Annika Backstrom, a registered dietitian at the Center for Student Health and Counseling, explained her views on the effects of healthy nutrition in a child’s life.
“I believe common sense shows that the less sugar a child has influences their daily lives, like in their ability to focus. Children are often afraid to try new things, but parent influence can impact that,” Backstrom said.
Not only has this program benefited Head Start families, it has also opened up opportunities for PSU students in the School of Community Health major within the program. For instance, the process of developing the Harvest for Healthy Kids pilot project included multiple PSU students, according to Barberis.
“Starting in January of the 2010 to 2011 year, the PSU students [in the School of Community Health major] aided in the pilot project,” Barberis said. “This included the development of the month-by-month curriculum and the research study.”