"I can just say I do not like the turnip," the third-grader said after a pause.
With the deliberate discernment of a true gourmet, the 9-year-old tried one more bite -- something else this time. "The red beets are kind of good," he said.
Thursday was Taste Washington Day at Pioneer Elementary School in Arlington. Schools around the state join in the annual event, sponsored by the state Department of Agriculture's Farm-to-School Program and the Washington School Nutrition Association.
It's a day meant to bring locally grown foods into school lunchrooms, and to encourage meal planners to adjust menus depending on seasonal products.
Students at four Arlington district elementary schools -- Eagle Creek, Kent Prairie, Pioneer and Presidents -- had the chance to sample fresh produce, along with their regular lunch.
At Pioneer, the day included visits from Arlington High School senior Jacklyn Bennett, president of her school's Future Farmers of America group, and Ed Aylesworth, director of health and nutrition for the Arlington School District.
Aylesworth brought the goods. He and 16-year-old Jacklyn, who was dressed as a strawberry, drew curious looks from kids while setting up a table and opening plastic bins of thinly sliced raw root vegetables.
Aylesworth said the produce came from Ralph's Greenhouse, an organic produce business in Mount Vernon, and Maltby Produce Market & Flower World near Snohomish.
On Pioneer's regular lunch menu Thursday were turkey gravy, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, applesauce, a dinner roll, produce bar and milk. Many students were eager to give the fresh Taste Washington offerings a nibble.
They crowded around the table, where Aylesworth passed out veggies with sanitary plastic-gloved hands. Red and golden beets, turnips and even rutabagas won surprisingly good reviews from young tasters.
"I sorta like it," said first-grader Dyton Hecox, with a turnip slice in hand. Ahayla Knight, 6, said her bite of a golden beet was "really sweet."
"I like all of them," said first-grader Emily Weaver, 6, who managed to fill her mouth with several slices of vegetables all at once.
"I eat a lot of carrots," said fourth-grader Makaylyn Bowen, 9. She munched on a whole carrot, complete with the leafy top. With baby-cut carrots a lunch-box staple, Aylesworth said he brought the real thing to give kids a "Bugs Bunny" experience.
After trying the produce, kids had a chance to fill out paper ballots. The winning vegetable in Thursday's tally will be added to school salad bars Oct. 24 for a Food Day celebration.
Earlier this year, the Arlington School District was named the Western Washington Fresh Food in Schools Champion by the Washington Sustainable Food and Farming Network. Aylesworth said he works to include local products on menus, depending on price. Right now, apples are among the local offerings.
"We try to use sources as locally as we can," Aylesworth said. Hendrickson Farms Wholesale, Fresh Cut & Distributor in Marysville is one of the district's regular suppliers, he said.
Crunchy vegetables in a crowded lunchroom brought back an ancient memory. I mostly took sack lunches to Spokane's Jefferson Elementary School. Once my mom put sliced green peppers in my lunch. I liked them, but some boy made fun of me for eating them. From then on, I told my mom, "No more peppers."
How cool to see the vegetable stigma uprooted. At Pioneer on Thursday, third-grader Charlie Irwin had a carton of chocolate milk in one hand and a slice of turnip in the other.
"I eat a lot of broccoli, too," she said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, email@example.com.
Find out more about the Farm-to-School Taste Washington Day online at: www.wafarmtoschool.org/Page/28/Taste-Washington-Day
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