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Tiffany Tyler

Getting kids to try new foods

The following was co-written by my wife Tiffany Tyler, who is the chair of the board of the Central City Co-op and Carolyn Lambeth, the Director of Operations for Central City. It appeared on Monday as a guest post on The Lunch Tray, and now I’m running it here.

When You Take Food Out of the Cafeteria, It Becomes More Interesting

Every parent struggles at some point with getting their children to eat healthy food, particularly vegetables. Parents at Travis Elementary school, through the Health and Wellness committee of the PTA in their Heights-based HISD school, have the chance to influence their children’s eating in many ways. The committee members have created a number of projects designed to make good, healthy food part of the learning environment at Travis.

One of the most successful ways food has been integrated into the overall learning package at Travis is with the Kindergarten classes. The “tasting station” began as a small experiment at a single event and became part of a monthly outdoor learning event designed by teachers and parents to get the students to put learning in contexts outside the classroom. Each year since the program’s start, individual parent volunteers have put their own stamp on the tasting station, developing more tie-ins between food and the learning process. Travis parents have shown that creativity, setting and positive peer pressure can lead to positive results.

For the 100 or more kindergarteners working their way through art, math and language activities interspersed with trike races each month, the small table with food samples is just one of many “stations” to work through over their time outside. The table is spread with food samples and some sort of math or language linked activity. For instance, if the math lessons that month are about building graphs and making comparisons, the food samples might be “different types of apples.” Pieces of a variety of apple are available for anyone to taste, and each taster must then mark on an “opinion sheet” which one they liked best. The sheets then flow back to the classroom for the teachers to use to build a results graph in a later lesson.

Getting 100 kids to try different apples- granny smith, fuji and honeycrisp, for example, isn’t too hard. Most kids like fruit. The parent volunteer can also talk to the tasters about “sweet” and “sour” or “sweet, “sweeter” and “sweetest” (Boys always show a strong preference for sour.) Getting the children to talk about the food, what it tastes like and why they do or do not like it are a great way to open a dialogue with the kinders about food.

After apples, it’s time to get creative. For lessons about science, we might talk about “seeds we eat” and try sunflower, pumpkin and pomegranate. Pumpkin is an easy one to try in the fall- and even reluctant students often get motivated to try to eat “pumpkin guts.” The related classroom activity for teachers can be simple- sprouting a seed for the school garden and talking about what it tasted like, or related to geography of “where do pomegranates come from.” Different varieties of citrus fruits can be shown and tasted. We learned that a lot of Travis boys like grapefruit- something most of them had not had before at home. Another interesting compare and contrast is “raw versus cooked,” where students might be asked to put their opinion on the data collection sheet about “which is sweeter” for raw versus cooked carrots or even broccoli. It only takes a few brave kids to try the broccoli in front of their friends and declare that “it really is sweet!” to get LOTS of interested takers to see if it is true.

The other wonderful tie-in here is that food comes from the land. Recent Travis parent volunteers have come from Central City Co-op, Houston’s oldest organic produce co-op, where many offerings are locally sourced. A tasting station on sweet potatoes, brought from a local farm via the Co-op, included dirty raw potatoes, a discussion of how they were grown and a picture of the farmer. Spring months provide opportunities for tasting different local lettuces and herbs, some of which are grown in the school garden. Even bitter greens or herbs can be presented in a way that makes children want to taste them- “leaves we eat” can be evaluated for bitter, sweet or spicy. Spinach with the roots attached can link back to seasonal growing and the farmer whose hands did the work to grow the plant.

Investing time in teaching the Travis kindergarten students to try new foods in this way has reaped strong rewards. Over 90% of the students tasted what was on offer at each of the 2009-2010 school year tastings. For some, the specific foods on offer were not new. For others, it was the first time they had seen some of the particular items. But every month, the presence of kids happily munching what was on offer and making their “observations” and “decisions” about the foods inspired others to try new things. No one had to try anything, and yet almost everyone did. And many discovered that they liked Thai spinach, plain roasted sweet potato, pomegranate seeds, romaine lettuce and yes, even broccoli.

Ten years of Central City Co-Op

Happy tenth birthday to Central City Co-op, the best source in town for organic and locally grown fruits and vegetables.

Celebrating its 10th anniversary year, the Central City Co-Op is also almost unrecognizable — but also much stronger and wiser. What had started on the porch of Pat Greer’s oldest daughter, Jennifer Georgantas, is now a efficient operation of about 50 volunteers feeding 240 families, as well as six partner co-ops ranging from Clear Lake and Sugar Land to northwest Houston and Humble.

A community of like-minded people, CCC is a place where Houstonians can find organic local food, colorful personalities and veggie goodness. The friendships, rather “sisterhood” of the ladies behind Central City Co-Op, perhaps somewhat akin to the women in Steel Magnolias, begins with small-talk chatter, as they quietly set up for yet another Wednesday, as they have for the last nine years.

As I have mentioned before, my wife Tiffany Tyler is the chair of the Central City board, so I have a personal stake in this. But we’ve been customers for a lot longer than that, so I’d be wishing them a happy birthday, anyway. If you’re not familiar with Central City Co-op, you should check them out.

Central City Co-Op Fundraiser

Central City Co-Op, Houston’s original organic co-op, is doing its annual fundraiser at this time. The following is from Tiffany Tyler, the chair of the Central City Co-Op Board, and also my wife:

At the Car Wash...

At the Car Wash...

Central City Co-op is partnering with Bubbles Express Car Wash to offer car wash tickets benefiting the Central City Co-op capital campaign fund. Central City Co-op is the original organic vegetable Co-op in Houston, serving over 200 households each week with fresh organic vegetables from local farms and a national organic distributor. Our new home inside Grace Lutheran Church at 2515 Waugh allows us to bring more local produce to our community, with a larger cold storage room and easy visibility. Central City is committed to building community around good food, and in addition to our retail operations, we do outreach work in local schools and donate produce each week to organizations that feed the hungry in our community.

Tickets for the Bubbles Express Choice are $8- the same as a drive-up price at Bubbles for their wash with rainbow foam wax, including free use of the vacuum cleaners. For each ticket sold, Central City keeps $4. Funds raised will help Central City build a cash reserve to cover anticipated summer utility bills and continue to donate produce each week. Tickets are available each Wednesday at the Co-op, 2515 Waugh at Missouri, inside Grace Lutheran Church. Tickets may also be purchased from co-op members at select classes at Studio NiaMoves, 508 Pecore in the Heights, or from our friends at New Living, 6111 Kirby Drive in the Rice Village. You can also email [email protected] for ticket sales.

Handwashing your car at home uses anywhere from 3-10 times as much water as a car wash at Bubbles. Water then runs down your street into the storm drains untreated. At Bubbles, the water is filtered and reused, then filtered again before going into the sanitary sewer for treatment at a city water plant. So having a clean car can be environmentally friendly, too!

These are great gifts!!! Moms, Dads, teachers and grads can all use a car wash! It’s an inexpensive gift that doesn’t take up storage space or attract dust, is always the right size, won’t make anyone fat AND they support a great cause! What could be better?

You can also drop me a note or leave a comment here if you’re interested in buying car wash tickets. Thanks very much.

New digs for Central City Co-Op

Central City Co-Op, Houston’s premier organic produce co-op, has moved to a new location in Montrose.

Central City Co-op moved this week to Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church, where the growing organic market’s members have renovated a space for their own use.

The church, 2515 Waugh Drive, was an ideal partner for the 8-year-old co-op, which previously held its weekly Wednesday market at Ecclesia Church, 2115 Taft St. The group also manages a Sunday market at Discovery Green.

“We realized as recently as a year and a half ago that we were outgrowing the space,” co-op board chairwoman Tiffany Tyler said of the Taft Street location. “When farmer deliveries happened on Tuesday nights last spring, we would pack that store room and it would literally be packed floor to ceiling with produce.”

The co-op got its start on a front porch as a way for friends to share the cost of organic foods. Every move since, Tyler said, has doubled the market’s business. More than 200 member families now pay the $48 annual fee, she said, and many others buy $1 passes to shop on market days. The group gets its produce from eight organic farms and from Country Fresh Inc., the same organic supplier used by local groceries.

Tiffany, for those of you who may not know, is my wife. You can find the new location for the Wednesday market here. Come check it out, you’ll be glad you did.

Saturday reminders

Just a reminder about a couple of things happening tomorrow that are of interest. One is the Central City Co-op garage sale, going on from 8 AM till noon at Fixers Automotive on 11th and Harvard in the Heights. Here’s a map if you’re unfamiliar with the area, and here are the details about Central City and the capital campaign of which this garage sale is a big part.

Second, tomorrow evening is the benefit for Jason Nodler of the Catastrophic Theatre, who is recovering from injuries sustained as a result of a hit-and-run accident in the Netherlands this summer. The event is from 6 PM to 11 PM at the new Catastrophic Theatre office at 1540 Sul Ross on the corner of Mandell. Here’s a map, and here are the details of the event. Hope to see you at each!

UPDATE: Thanks to the Houston Press for the shoutout.

Reminder: Central City Co-op garage sale this Saturday

Just a reminder about the Central City Co-op garage sale this Saturday, from 8 AM till noon at the Fixers Automotive on Harvard at 11th in the Heights. This is part of their capital campaign, which I blogged about last week. There’s going to be a ton of stuff at this garage sale – I know this because all of it is currently somewhere in my house or my garage, and it’s getting a bit difficult to see my children amid the large piles of toys, clothes, furniture, musical instruments, and so forth. So please, come out on Saturday morning and buy some of this stuff, as well as some car wash tickets for the Bubbles Express on Washington Avenue, and help out the Central City Co-op. Thanks very much.

Support the Central City Co-op

Some of you may know that my wife, Tiffany Tyler, has been working with Central City Co-Op. Last year, she helped launch the farmers market they run at Discovery Green – she was its first manager – and has continued to work with them on their Board of Directors. Central City is embarking on its first capital campaign this summer. She sent the following email to friends and supporters of Central City, which I’m reproducing here:

As most of you know, I’ve spent the past 2 years working within Central City Co-Op.  I’d been a co-op shopper and member since 2003, and took the opportunity after my corporate severance to become more involved in this community-based organization.  I am now chairman of its Board of Directors.

The Co-op has a central mission of bringing fresh, organic produce to people in the Houston community at a reasonable price.  We use a network of local farmers and a national distributor to source our produce, and a group of strongly committed volunteers supporting the equivalent of 3 paid staff to make the business work.  This includes our Wednesday operations on Taft Street AND the Farmer’s Market at Discovery Green on Sundays.  Each market day, remaindered unsold produce is donated to feed the least fortunate in our community.  In 2008 we donated over $10,000 in produce to support SEARCH, the Salvation Army and the Beacon at Christ Church Cathedral.

Our volunteers and staff have worked in area schools to do nutrition education and outreach, including Healthy Harvard Happenings.  We work now with the Urban Farm Belt coalition to help develop more community-based gardens so that people in the inner city will have access to the fresh produce they need to have balanced diets at reasonable cost.  Our Sunday operation at Discovery Green provides free booth space to community service groups to bring their messages of caring for the environment and each other to the masses of park attendees each weekend.

We pride ourselves on being a Texas not-for-profit corporation, serving our community.  We do not have IRS 501 C3 status, however, and this presents challenges as we apply for grant funding to grow and expand our educational programming.  It also hampers us when we need to replace capital goods.  Things like refrigerators, computers, shelving and scales do break.  The margins we use to keep our prices low don’t allow us a lot of wiggle room.  So we need a capital campaign.

We have begun our first capital campaign this summer, with a goal of raising sufficient funds to replace and expand our refrigeration system, buy new shelving and replace our scales.  We have multiple projects planned throughout the summer and fall to meet this goal.  Our summer projects include:

a car wash ticket sale for Bubbles Express.  Now through the 22nd of July, purchase a Choice Wash ticket from us for $8 (the same $8 they charge you if you drive up), and the Co-Op keeps $4.  We all like clean cars, right?  And the Bubbles on Washington Avenue is really convenient.  And did you know that they RECYCLE the water in their carwash?  Each 18 gallons used in a typical Choice Wash gets used for 2 or 3 cars (depending on how dirty they are).  And of course it is filtered and then sent to the treatment plant.  So there’s no groundwater contamination AND it uses very little water.  Doesn’t it just make you want to buy a block of tickets from me right now?  They’re good through 22 December, so you can stock up!

a community garage sale.  On Saturday 11 July, the folks at Fixers Automotive on Harvard at 11th are letting us use their space for a large community garage sale.  We’d love to have your household goods for sale, and we’d love to have you stop by and clothe your kids or round out your household in some other way.  Contact me for drop-off information.  We’ll be selling from 8 am to noon on the 11th.  And we’ll have carwash tickets there, too.

I encourage all of you to support Central City Co-op.  I’ve found it to be a wonderful group of people who believe passionately in good food, good stewardship and strong community.  We are always looking for more good folks to help, as well, so if the spirit moves you to learn more and become involved, please don’t hesitate to ask me for more information.

Thanks for your time.  I look forward to hearing from you.

You can also follow Central City Co-op on Twitter or join their Facebook group. If you want to help out with the car wash ticket sales, or just want to buy some car wash tickets, please send an email to [email protected] Or just leave a comment here and we’ll get in touch. Thanks very much.