Kellom Elementary Gets a Taste of the Farm
Food deserts are areas within a city that have limited access to nutritious foods—areas where corner stores, gas stations, and fast food joints are the most convenient sources of calories, and many people in the area lack the physical or financial means to travel any distance for better options. In Omaha, these deserts are commonly found in the northeastern and southeastern districts of town.
Fortunately, there are many groups in Omaha working to resolve these issues and to improve food options for folks living in these areas through community garden projects, school programs, fresh food delivery services, and various other outreach programs.
This month, our “What’s Fresh” article comes to us from Nicole Engels, a member of Slow Food Omaha. She reports on a project the group began this fall in an effort to increase access to farm-fresh foods for families at one school in Northeast Omaha…
Tuesday afternoons for four weeks this fall, families and faculty gathered in the parking lot at Kellom Elementary after the release bell. People milled and talked to one another. Kids played tag and asked their parents to buy them carrots.
Did you get that? Kids asked their parents to buy carrots…and garlic…and chard!
What an amazing environment! The Kellom Farmers Market was launched this fall as a collaborative project between Slow Food Omaha and Kellom Elementary, and it is providing one more way for folks in Northeast Omaha to get easy access to healthy, fresh foods.
The project came about after the idea was proposed at a Slow Food Omaha meeting last May. It sounded like a challenging proposition—I was expecting to struggle to find interest and endless red tape once we did. Luckily, things didn’t turn out to be so difficult. Thank you, Omaha, for beating my doubts into submission!
All it took was one small email announcement, and we had three schools interested in working with us. We ended up choosing Kellom Elementary because it seemed like such an easy fit—they already have a principal and teachers who are excited about getting students involved in their school garden, bringing better food into their cafeteria, and making sure that their students are healthy, in general. They were willing to work with us in developing the program and making time for it in the classroom, as well.
The overarching goal of this market, aside from providing access to good food, is to involve students in the cycle of a local food system. By getting children involved in growing, selling, buying, and cooking food, we aim to bring the cycle together in a way that makes sense and connects the student with what they are eating. Hopefully, it will also help them connect why they might want to make healthy food choices and show them just how delicious minimally processed, healthy foods can be! We are doing this by working with students in their school garden, hosting the farmers’ market at their school, and working to bring in Operation Frontline to conduct cooking and nutrition classes with students and their guardians.
This fall, we started in the garden by replacing the soil and putting the beds to rest with spring planting in mind. Initially, the eight raised beds contained soil with a high lead content, a common problem in Omaha’s eastern neighborhoods. Principle Eric Nelson called on one of Kellom’s community partners, First Comp, who delivered the newly donated topsoil on our first day of market.
Mrs. Kulm’s fifth graders worked with us in the garden to lay down straw under a few inches of soil. This will break down over the winter to improve the quality of the soil. It is already nice, but building up an even nicer soil never hurt a garden! It was also a good way to find out that many of the students in Mrs. Kulm’s class have spent time gardening with their parents, grandparents, or at the Gifford Park youth garden. Come spring, we will plant vegetables like lettuce, carrots, Bok Choy, collards, spring onions, peas, and herbs to take down to the market. Selling the produce can help the garden pay for itself and other produce can be used in cooking classes for students.
This season, Kellom Market was hosted by Black Sheep Farms, Rhizosphere Farm, Kvam Family Farm, and Completely Nourished, Inc. Black Sheep and Rhizosphere both produce wonderful veggies using organic practices while Kvam takes the same principle and applies it to the beef and chicken that they raise. Completely Nourished is a web-based non-profit that provides news, recipes, tips, and discussion on living a minimally processed, naturally based life.
To add to our market, Completely Nourished volunteers put together a map showing every place to buy produce within a mile of the school and many other places within three miles. They also created a one-week menu of “real foods” meals that can be easily prepared at home for about $2.00 per person. Both items were distributed free of charge at the market!
By providing the food map, menu, produce, and farm-fresh meat all in one convenient location, we hope to encourage people to give something new and healthy a try. To further increase accessibility of the goods being sold, Kellom Market vendors reduced their prices by 50% (the difference will be subsidized through funds raised by Slow Food Omaha).
As we move forward, we are working on how to involve both the school and the community around us. We want to bring in people who may not normally have much of an interest in farmers markets or for whom it may normally be out of reach financially.
Next spring, this market will be back, hopefully bigger and better than it was this season. We will engage the students in the food distribution system by having them sell produce at the market that they have grown themselves in their school garden. This isn’t a new idea, having kids sell the produce that they grow. Here in town, the Gifford Park Teen Market Garden is a great community program that has provided a lot of inspiration in our own efforts.
Though market season is over for the winter, we have a lot of work ahead of us before spring arrives: grants to write, cooking classes to organize, gardens to plant, and increased marketing to recruit more parents and neighborhood members to the market. After all, Creighton University (my own Alma matter) is just up the street. I would’ve loved to have had a market within walking distance when I was living on campus without a car.
Beyond building just a market, this is an opportunity to build a tighter knit community. On the last day of market this fall, women from the Yates Community Center joined us. These women from Myanmar are learning English and working on sewing to sell. Their dresses, shirts, bags, and tablecloths were beautiful, brightly colored affairs. The week before that, Children’s Hospital gave away child safety car seats at the market. We’d love to continue for people from the community to feel that our little market is a good place to share what they are doing with their neighbors.
There has been a wonderful team of people getting this market going, and while I may be the one writing this article, I am not the one that made it all happen. Thank you so much Christy, Mary, Mandy, Kelly, Matt and Terra, and everyone else who played a part, especially Mr. Eric Nelson and Mrs. Lin Kulm! We’ll see you in the spring!
If you would like to know more about Slow Food Omaha or the Kellom Market, shoot us an e-mail at slowfoodomaha [at] gmail [dot] com. We’d love to hear from you!