If You Take a Student to the Farm Stand…

Mercy Learning Center student tasting the salad made by UCONN nutritionists Heather Harrington and Tina Dugdale
Mercy Learning Center student tasting the salad made by UCONN nutritionists Heather Harrington and Tina Dugdale

If you take a student to the farm stand, she will learn that fresh, local food is not only affordable and convenient, but nutritious and delicious. That’s the lesson learned today by a group of seventeen Mercy Learning Center students thanks to a Health Eating program cooked up by the Junior League of Eastern Fairfield County.

Sharon Sanford, Student Enrichment Coordinator, prepares Mercy Learning Center students for a field trip to Park City Harvest's Marina Village Farmers' Market
Sharon Sanford, Student Enrichment Coordinator, prepares Mercy Learning Center students for a field trip to Park City Harvest's Marina Village Farmers' Market with Jennie Julio and Susan Zaveruha of the Junior League of Eastern Fairfield County

The Junior League volunteers and I met with Sharon Sanford and her students at Mercy Learning Center and took a quick walk to the Marina Village farm stand where we were met with open arms by chef and food policy advocate Michel Nischan, who is Wholesome Wave’s president and CEO. As one of Wholesome Wave Foundation’s

A Mercy Learning Center student shops for green beans
A Mercy Learning Center student shops for green beans

core “Nourishing Neighborhoods” programs, the Neighborhood Farm Stand Program brings Park City Harvest farm stands deep within neighborhoods of under-served Bridgeport, Connecticut where shoppers can purchase CT grown fruit and produce using SNAP-EBT cards and Senior/WIC FMNP checks. Until last month shoppers were able to redeem their cards and checks for double their value in farm stand tokens. Wholesome Wave is working to secure funding to reinstate this Double Value Coupon program.

Jennie Julio and Susan Zaveruha from the Junior League, Michel Nischan of Wholesome Wave and Susan Sanford of Mercy Learning Center
Jennie Julio and Susan Zaveruha from the Junior League, Michel Nischan of Wholesome Wave and Susan Sanford of Mercy Learning Center

Heather Harrington, MS RD and Tina Dugdale, MS RN RD, both Extension Instructors from UCONN’s Department of AlliedHealth Sciences at the University of Connecticut, discussed the produce and fruit available at the farm stand and how to prepare it. My favorite part of this was hearing from the students themselves and how they used the vegetables in their native dishes. My mouth began to water thinking about the chile rellenos that

Michel Nischan teaching the students how to prepare zucchini for use in fresh salsas
Michel Nischan teaching the students how to prepare zucchini for use in fresh salsas

one student was going to make with the Poblano peppers. Another was planning to make fresh salsa using tomatoes, and jalapenos from the farm stand. Michel Nischan lent some great culinary advice: “Zucchini is great in salsa. Just sprinkle squash and zucchini with salt. Let it sit for 15 minutes to soften it up a bit. You can add it to salsa and it’s delicious! Pour it over pasta for a quick dinner.” The zucchini sold out today!

Mercy Learning Center students clearly enjoyed visiting the market
Mercy Learning Center students clearly enjoyed visiting the market

The students were clearly enjoying themselves and made quick work of shopping. One declared “I’m going to eat so delicious tonight!” as she stuffed her bags with zucchini, tomatoes, apples, corn, green beans, and chile peppers. When it was time to check out, each student was given a reusable shopping bag, courtesy of Wholesome Wave, a paper bag donated by Trader Joe’s of Fairfield, and $20 in tokens provided through funding from the Junior League.

"Who liked spicy food?" garnered a few laughs and a show of hands
"Who likes spicy food?" garnered a few laughs and a show of hands

I’m looking forward to returning to Mercy in November to work directly with the students in their teaching kitchen. They’re gathering their favorite home recipes for me to tweak with some healthier ingredients or cooking methods. They don’t know it, but I’m looking forward to learning

It was all smiles as the students waited on line to pay with their token. Many will be returning to a Park City Harvest farm stand to use their leftover tokens before the end of the month.
It was all smiles as the students waited on line to pay with their tokens. Many will be returning to a Park City Harvest farm stand to use their leftover tokens before the end of the month.

how to make dishes from their native countries, which span the globe and include Haiti and Peru, as much as I am looking forward to sharing my knowledge with them.

When I asked the students to rate their experience at the market, the votes were unanimous. It’s a 10! I think we’ve got a winner.

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