Above: Morgan Hoenig, local foods coordinator and master gardener coordinator with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, talks about corn to first graders in Becky Davis’ North Hill Elementary School classroom in Burlington. Photo/John Lovretta
By Andy Schneider
Morgan Hoenig owns and operates an organic farm in Mount Pleasant, and likes to empower kids through food — the kind of fruits and vegetables some children have never seen or tasted.
Hoenig, who also works at the Iowa State University Extension office, heads up the Taste of Iowa program at the Iowa State University Extension Office that exposes first-grade children to new foods. The program is relatively new, only two years old. Her goal is to reach kids at an early age so they can understand food and where it comes from.
Then they get to taste it.
Above: DJ Smith, a first-grade student in Becky Davis’ North Hill Elementary School classroom, enjoys some popcorn during the presentation about corn. Photo/John Lovretta
“The kids are not allowed to say yuck. Don’t yuck my yum!” Hoenig said.
Apples from Lee County, carrots and beans from Iowa, popcorn from Hoenig’s research farm, maple syrup from Illinois — it’s all fair game. After trying the new foods, the students are given a choice between “Liked,” “Loved,” or “Tried.”
Their responses fill a poster that hangs in the classroom, allowing other students to see what their friends have eaten.
“Positive peer pressure is very important,” Hoenig said. “When kids next to them say ‘yum, it makes them more likely to try something.
Hoenig said she wanted the kids to “taste the difference between homegrown and store-made products.” She uses syrup as a classroom example, showing the kids the difference between corn syrup and actual raw maple syrup.
Hoenig said the thrust of the program is to connect children back to farm-grown products that they likely have encountered before.
“Adults and kids are disconnected (from food),” Hoenig said.
Hoenig’s office presents the food program through Des Moines County schools, which includes Danville, Mediapolis, North Hill, and Blackhawk Elementary Schools. Hoenig herself has won multiple grants for her one-woman organic farm, which garnered a visit from President Obama.
Hoenig and county youth coordinator Mary Steffener take the program directly into the schools and encourage parents not to discourage their children from trying new foods.
“One of the best parts of my job is when parents call her excited because their child had tried a new food,” Hoenig said.
Above: Catherine Malatek, a first-grade student in Becky Davis North Hill Elementary School classroom enjoys some popcorn during a presentation about corn by Morgan Hoenig, local foods coordinator and master gardener coordinator with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach. Photo/John Lovretta