A Tasty Partnership With Mustard Seed Market

Enrolled at Veggie U!
Posted on 05/10/2019
Image of Veggie U(Brian Lisik for Akron.com/West Side Leader)

Hands-on teaching can be invaluable in showing both how something works and how it fits into the bigger picture.
For the past several years, the Akron Public Schools (APS) partnership with national nonprofit Veggie U and Akron-area-based Mustard Seed Market & Café has done just that.

“What I am most surprised with is that there is still a misconception about where food comes from, in spite of things like community gardens,” said APS Health and Science Learning Specialist Katrina Halasa.

Last month, third-graders from across the district were afforded a first-hand opportunity to learn just that, all while test marketing a range of vegetables some had never tasted before.

The program was started in 2009 with an $119,000 grant as part of a district-wide focus on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education, according to APS officials. The Veggie U and Mustard Seed partnership provided a box of vegetables for the 78 third-grade classrooms, as well as a 25-lesson, five-unit curriculum addressing how science relates to soil, vegetables, nutrition and health.

“The whole purpose of Veggie U was to provide students the opportunity to see we don’t just go buy our food at the store,” Halasa said.

She added the program meets Ohio’s third-grade life and Earth science standards for natural resources and living organisms, teaching plant reproduction cycles and how organisms can have both similarities and differences.

While Veggie U no longer provides and ships classroom gardens, according to its website, APS continues to use its plant science and nutrition curriculum. APS has also continued its four-year partnership with Mustard Seed to provide the 1,500 APS third-graders with a sample box of fresh vegetables to enhance their classroom gardens.

Again this year, Mustard Seed supplied each classroom teacher with an assortment of vegetables — including rainbow baby carrots, mini sweet peppers, fennel, cilantro, purple cauliflower and jicama — that students sampled April 16.

The vegetable tasting kicked off this year’s five-week Veggie U science program and was designed to pique the students’ interest about growing their own vegetables.

Gabe Nabors, second-generation owner of Mustard Seed Market and Café, said his company values opportunities to work with young people throughout Northeast Ohio.

“At Mustard Seed Market & Café, we believe that any opportunity to introduce children to a healthy lifestyle and teach them how real food reaches their plate is priceless,” said Nabors in a press release.

Halasa said the big-picture value of STEM programs like Veggie U and the district’s partnership with The Ohio State University Extension for ChickQuest — where students observe a chick over its 21-day incubation to its hatchling phase — is potentially limitless.

“Every kid in the district gets this opportunity, and you don’t know where that is going to take them,” she said. “It all teaches the importance of taking care of something. Some of their responses are funny, like, ‘Is the chick going to be OK without its parents anymore?’ But my biggest thing is that I want critical thinkers — for them to understand what is around them and how important it is to take care of things. And also for them to be able to say, ‘Hey, this is fun. Science isn’t hard.’”

Image of Veggie U
(Case CLC students in Jennifer Perdok’s third-grade class — Christian Hurd, shown above, and Yuchenfei Ma, shown below — taste vegetables provided by Mustard Seed Market & Café as part of the Veggie U program.)
Image of Veggie U Image of Veggie U
(With a goal to educate Akron Public Schools (APS) students about the importance of healthy eating and how real food reaches their plates, APS partnered with Mustard Seed Market & Café to provide 1,500 third-graders (78 classrooms) with a sample box of fresh vegetables. Shown above are some of the vegetables Jennifer Perdok’s third-grade class at Case Community Learning Center studied.)
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