“Project Grows” brings pepper-tasting to Keister for Farm to School Week


Lucie Rutherford

Laura Smith prepares locally grown peppers for the elementary school students to try

As kindergarten through fifth graders made their way to and from lunch on Oct. 5, there was something different awaiting them. In honor of national Farm to School week, the nonprofit educational farm “Project Grows” visited Keister Elementary School. Farm Manager Laura Smith and Assistant Farm Manager Alicia Cooley were there representing the farm and had a table set up outside of the cafeteria for pepper tastings.

“We are doing a vegetable tasting, so we’re chopping up some sweet peppers for the kids to try during lunch,” Smith said.

As kids rolled past the table, some dared to try the peppers, whereas others did not. For many, the immediate thought was that the peppers would be spicy, they and were surprised to hear that sweet peppers exist.

“Our big goal with the tastings is just to get kids to try new veggies, because even if they don’t like them, [it’s good] just to get them willing to try new things,” Smith said.

Though some of the elementary schoolers did not try the new food, others were delighted by the sweet taste. Despite the differing opinions, Smith, Cooley and Project Grows have an even bigger goal than simply getting them to try new produce.

“Part of our mission has to do with food access and nutrition,” Smith said. “[We want to] teach them a little bit about where their food comes from and what it means to eat healthy foods.”

Project Grows is not located in Harrisonburg, though just south of it in Verona. Throughout their growing and harvesting periods, they have waves of students come visit their farm.

“We’re primarily with the youth in Augusta County, but we also get groups from Harrisonburg and this area that come out to the farm,” Smith said.

At one point during the tasting, a teacher walked by and explained that her students were shocked to hear that the farmer coming that day was a ‘she,’ and Smith explained that this also goes along with one of their goals in changing the views of young students.

“A lot of kids’ perceptions of farmers is older men in white overalls, so an activity I told teachers to do with their students was to have them draw what they think of when they think of farms and a farmer,” Smith said. “A lot of kids will draw animals and cows, and we want to show that that’s not what all farms are. Also, they would most likely draw a male farmer, and we want to show them that that is not always the case either.”

Project Grows will only be in Harrisonburg for one day, though they plan on doing multiple Farm to School events in Augusta County and Staunton Public Schools throughout the week.