DANBY — The tantalizing aroma recently carried Currier Memorial School (CMS) librarian Christine Edwins away from her books and into the gymnasium.

“What’s that smell?” she asked. The amazing and healthy concoctions were being whipped up by Cedar Schiewetz from the Vermont Garden Network (VGN). On this day, they prepared an apple and orange chutney on a portable stove. Edwins had one request, “I want what Cedar is cooking!”

She was not alone.

On Tuesday, May 2, every student from pre-kindergarten through fifth grade participated in a series of nutrition workshops. Schiewetz, VGN’s Garden and Nutrition Program Manager, runs the sessions as both chef and instructor, making certain every student is involved in the culinary lesson.

“We want to engage Vermonters of all ages on the importance of fruits and vegetables in the daily intake of their diet,” Schiewetz said. “This is especially true for our youngsters. They need to learn at an early age that high quality nutrition is both healthy and tastes good.”

To deliver on this mission, VGN created the Veducation Van, a mobile classroom designed to drive the message of the benefits of fruits and vegetables directly to its audience. The Van travels the state year-round to visit schools, senior citizen centers, and all points in between.

Schiewetz told the Currier kids to call them Cedar. They set up a portable kitchen and transformed the gym into a food laboratory. For each workshop, Cedar prepared a healthy dish in real time — describing the ingredients and using a series of questions to engage the students.

The food tutorial covered a variety of topics:

The benefits of fats, fiber, and healthy carbs. How good nutrition and plenty of sleep helps limit cravings for bad foods. How to read the packaging labels on food. The added benefits of fresh food from local farmers.

But taste comes first.

For pre-kindergarteners through second graders, Schiewetz made a warm beverage called Golden Milk. In addition to the milk, the drink included ginger, turmeric, vanilla, peppercorns, and a dash of cinnamon.

Principal Carolyn Parillo was curious to see how the kids would react to unfamiliar foods.

“Cedar brought the kids into the process and when the time came to take a sip, all but one of the 34 children gave it a try,” she said. “I was extremely proud of how brave they were to try something new.”

The students in grades three through five were treated to a sweet potato dal. Besides the featured vegetable, the aromatic dish included lentils, scallions, tomatoes, spices, and a few handfuls of fresh spinach.

The kids helped Schiewetz prepare the dish by cutting up the ingredients.

“These cut scallions smell like onions,” reported one student. Schiewetz passed around grated fresh ginger to sample. “It smells like ginger ale!” said another taste tester.

Schiewetz called out the name of every spice as each went into the pot. “Did you say human?” asked a student. “No, no,” Schiewetz corrected. “It’s called cumin.”

The workshop ended with everyone asked to sample the main entree. Once again, the students were cheered on to at least give the unfamiliar food a try. A few were hesitant, but one girl’s experience best sums up the overall reaction: a reluctant taste, a pensive look, and then a startled proclamation. “It’s delicious.”

The Vermont Garden Network’s visit to Currier was conveniently scheduled to take place during the school’s Nutrition Challenge. The Challenge is the capstone of a year-long collaborative effort by Currier teachers, staff and parents that formed a Wellness Committee to focus on healthy eating habits for students.

“At the start of the year we sent out information to families encouraging them to choose healthier choices for celebrations, such as birthdays,” says Parillo. “We fully encourage and support treats in moderation, but we want treats to be well balanced with healthier choices as well. Fruit kabobs, for example, are now a big hit with the kids.”

To bring a focus on the Nutrition Challenge, the Wellness Committee came up with the idea of building a rainbow to show student progress in healthy eating. A parent volunteer, Margot Cebo, created artful images of fruits and veggies that serve as a colorful border to a bulletin board in the school gymnasium. The Currier Student Council came up with the idea for building the rainbow during the month of May. Students earn colored dots for consuming a serving of fruits or vegetables at school. The dots are then used to construct the rainbow depicted on the billboard.

“We thought it would take the whole month of May to complete the rainbow,” Parillo says. “Now, it looks like we might be done in a week.”

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