Sweet potatoes are everywhere.
They are on the cover of Cooking Light magazine, at the Batesville Farmers’ Market and, this week, in the tummies of a multitude of Batesville students.
The Sweet Potato Pride Project began when Margaret Mary Health dietitian Kathy Cooley decided to apply for a $1,000 National Farm to School Network grant to be used at Batesville Primary School and Batesville Intermediate School. “I knew that we had strong school garden and local foods programs.” Batesville Community School Corp. director of student learning Melissa Burton facilitated the process. According to Cooley, “It was a very coordinated effort between MMH and the school corporation.”
So this week the hospital and BCSC marked Oct. 24’s Food Day, “a nationwide celebration and movement for healthy, affordable and sustainable food,” Cooley reports. In Batesville sweet potatoes are the focus. There are several reasons that veggie was chosen. They are “cheap and healthy. You get the most nutrition for the least cost,” she points out. They are easy to prepare. “There are hundreds of great ways.” Sweet potatoes also are accessible because they are easy to grow in southeastern Indiana.
The project had three goals: increased exposure to gardening and cooking; ability to identify a new vegetable; and increased use of sweet potatoes in the student’s home.
“Once we got the grant, then we formed a team,” Cooley, the project leader, remembers. The partners began meeting in April and the next month the local chef and farmers were selected. In addition to Cooley and Burton, the team included MMH community health improvement assistant Ashley Morris, BIS principal Dr. Jere Schoettmer, BIS cafeteria manager Jane Tekulve, BPS principal Heather Haunert, BPS cafeteria manager Luettie Harrison, Big Four Café chef Adam Israel, Holton farmer Mike Swango and Oldenburg farmer Karen Enneking.
Potato slips (starter plants) were planted near the end of May in two very large flower pots in the BIS garden behind the school. Third-grade teacher Cindy Weisenbach reports, “Students tended the plants, pulling weeds, and watering them as needed. They checked on them weekly and observed their growth, and were amazed by how much they vined out into our garden with roots anchoring them down along the way. BPS teachers and students followed a similar timetable.