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  • Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine

September is Food Literacy Month

By Carrie Strohl, aka The School Garden Doctor

One year ago, a handful of dedicated Napa Valley teachers and garden educators were preparing to kick off Food Literacy Month with “The Z Project” harvest. They had planted and nurtured a crop of zucchini in several school and community gardens to serve every Napa Valley Unified School District elementary school student a two-ounce taste with lunch on a single day. 

The California Legislature established Food Literacy Month on September 18, 2012 when they signed ACR Resolution No. 161. Amber Stott, Chief Food Genius at The Food Literacy Center in Sacramento (, was instrumental in making Food Literacy Month become reality. The goal is to raise awareness about how to make food choices that are “good for people and good for the planet,” while also building community.

This year is different. Because schools and school gardens have been closed since mid March, there will be no squash for NOSH (Napa’s Operative for School Food) this September. However, even with social distancing in place, we can still celebrate Food Literacy Month as a community. While families face another season of distance learning, The School Garden Doctor is cooking up a virtual food education effort!  

Cooking and Gardening in School

Cooking and gardening in school are not new concepts. The Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, CA ( was founded over twenty years ago, and the Farm-to-School Network ( promotes cooking and school gardening initiatives in all fifty US states. Surprisingly, some food education efforts exclude the most important partners: classroom teachers. 

Educators who want to build a classroom food community do not need to be accomplished cooks nor expert gardeners. They simply need to be interested in using food as a way to connect learning to meaningful, real-world experience. 

Napa’s own School Garden Doctor developed “Common Core Cooking and Gardening for the Next Generation” specifically to teach them how. Funded by a Whole Kids Foundation Innovation Grant in 2016, Common Core Cooking is a curriculum resource guide that aims to make every educator, a food educator. 

This program empowers teachers to find time in the school day to teach food literacy all year long. It uses a classroom-tested model–known as “Eat-Read-Talk-Write”—which aligns instruction to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for English Language Arts/Literacy and Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The approach begins with a shared tasting experience that sets the stage for reading comprehension, rich discussion, and authentic writing. The cycle can be extended to include planting, growing, and harvesting to incorporate science investigation in the school garden.

Taken together, Common Core Cooking puts food at the center of science and literacy instruction. Each lesson connects to one of five food literacy themes. For the theme “Geography and Origin”—students explore corn. Although first domesticated thousands of years ago in what is today, Mexico, corn is eaten all over the world! In the lesson “Know Your

Roots,” students investigate spices from around the globe and then collaboratively prepare a sweet or savory topping for popcorn. They take away key nutrition concepts as well, such as: popcorn is a low-calorie, high-fiber, whole-grain snack. 

Building Community through Cuisine

As a former classroom teacher, The School Garden Doctor can attest to the powerful pull food education has for students. But don’t take her word for it. When third grade teacher, Liz Corey, used Common Core Cooking lessons she said, “I learned that students get very excited when they work with food. Food brings students together and they learn about traditions and cultures as well.” Building community is both prerequisite and outcome of food education. 

Although teachers have a lot on their plates, especially during the pandemic-imposed distance learning—food education has the potential to connect home and school in ways that nourish the bodies and nurture minds of our students in noticeable ways. 

Connecting Home and School through (Virtual) Food Education

In an effort to connect home and school through food, The School Garden Doctor is releasing a “Common Core Cooking” online! To celebrate Food Literacy Month, I challenge every parent, teacher, or caregiver to adopt one new practice in your own eating or to nurture a child’s food wellbeing through cooking or gardening. To get started, you can try this simple Tomato Tasting activity adapted from the Common Core Cooking theme “Trying New Things.” 

• Gather three different types of tomatoes Select varieties of different colors, shapes,

and sizes.

• Thoroughly wash and sanitize hands, tools, tomatoes, and preparation surfaces.

• Cut each tomato in half. Place one half of each tomato on a separate plate. Then cut the other half into bite-sized pieces.

• Create interest by involving children in the preparation process or by asking probing questions, such as, “Do you think these tomatoes will taste the same?”

• Invite students to taste a piece of each tomato, one at a time. Never force or pressure students to taste. Let them choose and reassure them that it’s okay if they don’t like it, but remind them that no “Mr. Yuck” faces are allowed!

• After each variety, ask, “How did it taste?” Younger students may need you to provide vocabulary like “sweet” or “tangy.” Alternatively, ask for a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” rating.

• After trying each variety, take a vote. Ask each taster to select their favorite tasting tomato. Make a simple representation of tasters’ “likes.” Invite them to take

another taste of their favorite tomato.

• Read the book “I Will Never, Not Ever, Eat a Tomato” by Lauren Child. Discuss how

amazing it is that Lola and Charlie eat their veggies!

If you would like more ideas for tasting lessons or cooking activities for the fall semester, visit To learn more about how to find more time in the (virtual) school day to teach food literacy, contact Carrie Strohl at  


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