Eat, Drink and Support Purple Asparagus and Local Foods

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August 23, 2011 at 1:21 pm

Melissa Graham

2011.04.08_PurpleAsparagus_McNair
Photo Credit, Artisan Events

Imagine a class full of children swearing that they hate vegetables. Not hard to envision, right? Come back in an hour and watch them swarm the teacher’s desk for any leftovers from their veggie tasting. Believe that? I’ve witnessed this transformation on hundreds of occasions while teaching in the Chicago Public Schools for the non-profit that I founded and run, Purple Asparagus.

Purple Asparagus educates children, families and the community about eating that’s good for the body and the planet. Every year, we present Delicious Nutritious Adventures, our cornerstone education program, to thousands of parents and children throughout Chicago at schools, community centers, and farmers’ markets. Delicious Nutritious Adventures invites families to explore the foods we eat in an entirely different way. We teach about the farmers who grow the food, the places it comes from, what’s good about food grown close to the earth, and how to prepare healthy, delicious recipes. Combining nutrition education, food literacy, cooking, and fun, our highly popular hands on classes celebrate farm fresh fruits and vegetables.

Obesity is a national crisis, one that’s hit Chicago particularly hard. Overweight and obese children are at greater risk for diabetes, hypertension, increased risk of heart disease, and poor self-esteem. The issue is particularly prevalent in the underserved communities where good food is in short supply. Purple Asparagus is working to combat this issue in these communities by taking a new approach to healthy eating.

While teaching kids about healthy choices is a priority to Purple Asparagus, we’re sneaky about that message. Everything about our classes (even our name) is fun. Kids are more willing to try “healthy” foods when they’re not presented as such. A first grade boy will surely turn up his nose at a chickpea when told that it’s high in fiber and protein. Explain instead that its Italian name comes from its resemblance to a wart on a famous Roman’s face and he’ll climb all over his classmate’s to try it. Describe mint as a gum plant and a child’s resistance to the green leaves will melt. We explore food in a way that’s interesting and fun that makes kids happy to try new foods.

In the 2010-11 school year, we provided 250 hours of free educational programming to schools, community centers, farmer’s markets, and health fairs in Chicago serving roughly 2,500 students in over 30 Chicago neighborhoods on a shoestring budget with an all volunteer staff. We also served as a lead partner with Healthy Schools Campaign on the largest coordinated response to Michelle Obama’s call to chefs, Chefs Move to Schools. Through this program, we trained over 175 chefs who visited close to 200 schools reaching 8,000 children.

All this is great, you say, but how can I help? It couldn’t be a better week to ask this question. Purple Asparagus’ annual fundraiser, Corks & Crayons Benefit at Uncommon Ground, 1401 W Devon Ave, Chicago, on Sunday, August 28, 2011 from 3-7 p.m. The family-friendly event that brings foodies old and young together to celebrate the joys of family meals and healthy eating all for a good cause. The event will include a mini farmers’ market sponsored by Harvest Moon Organics farm, live music from Old Town School musicians, the Kohl Foundation Storybook Bus as well as Truck Farm Chicago, a traveling mini-farm exhibit connecting kids to food and health.

If you cannot attend, please consider bidding on our online auction. We have some terrific auction items to buy now as well as some new items coming on in the next few days – even for out of towners!

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