Daily Astorian

Jenny Chavez couldn't hand out samples fast enough for the fifth-graders crowding her booth Wednesday at Windy River Elementary School in Boardman.

But it wasn't candy or french fries that had the kids reaching for a snack. It was fresh kale, chard and a colorful assortment of healthy fruits and vegetables.

"I want you to pick it up, I want you to smell it, I want you to feel it and I want you to experience it," said Chavez, family and community health program manager with Oregon State University Extension Service in Morrow County. "Because a lot of times, if you haven't had something before, you're not going to try it."

Students were fearless tasting new and perhaps unusual looking foods from Chavez as part of the school's first "Farm to Market" event teaching the importance of good nutrition.

Sponsored by Sodexo -- the Morrow County School District's food service provider -- special guests helped transform the gymnasium and cafeteria into a miniature farmers' market, including presentations about locally raised produce and dairy products.

While not everything at Chavez's booth was grown in Oregon, it did give each kid the chance to try something they maybe wouldn't eat every day. Purple and yellow carrots especially caught their attention.

Carrots were originally cultivated as purple or yellow centuries ago before orange became the dominant color, Chavez explained. Fifth-grader Marco Barrera, 10, daringly found out the purple ones taste just the same.

"It was really good," Barrera said. "If you don't try new foods, you won't be able to explore new things. You won't like anything, pretty much."

On the other end of the table, volunteers blended spinach smoothies with orange juice, yogurt, bananas and mango to show how the kids could make their own sweet snacks right at home.

Other booths focused specifically on dairy production and the variety of crops grown all across Oregon. Jessica Budge, executive director of the Oregon Agriculture in the Classroom Foundation, said farmers are capable of growing 220 different commodities throughout the state.

Budge also helped kids make their own "living necklace," wrapping a kidney bean in a soaked cotton ball. The beans will germinate in a matter of days, she said.

"It's just a way to connect to Oregon agriculture," Budge said. "It's a hands-on way to see something they can grow on their own."

Following the market, students were treated to an A-Z salad bar for lunch, featuring even more fruits and vegetables for every letter of the alphabet. Lunch was free for the day.

Kim Mabry, nutrition services director for the district, said Farm to Market is a fun and interactive way for students to learn about proper nutrition. A similar event is scheduled for Thursday at Grove Elementary School in Milton-Freewater.

"Nationally, we hear about childhood obesity and the problems we're having. That's why they came up with this," Mabry said. "We'll be expanding this program a bit."

Contact George Plaven at gplaven@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4547.

This story originally appeared in East Oregonian.

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