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By Margolit Sands, FoodCorps service member

As the Massachusetts climate approaches frosty temperatures, we gathered Boston second and third graders to warm up in the greenhouse and learn all about cranberries.

“Why are we talking about cranberries?,” we asked the children. “There are no cranberries growing in the greenhouse!” The students easily identified the holiday season as a possible reason.

Yet, the idea of cranberries growing here in Massachusetts seemed completely foreign to them.

{{ image(2583, {“class”: “flor round”, “width”:”300″, “height”:”201″, “method”: “img”}) }}As FoodCorps service members serving with The Food Project, we are dedicated to reconnecting these kids with real food (like Massachusetts-grown cranberries) by teaching them about where food comes from and how to grow it. The Food Project is an organization that brings together youth, food, and community through sustainable agriculture. It is also my service site through FoodCorps, in the Dudley Street neighborhood of Boston. We meet with classes and after school programs every week to teach lessons that highlight local foods and school gardening practices.

This week, in the Dudley Greenhouse, we held this cranberry lesson for 100 students. After introducing the theme of the day — cranberries — we reviewed a brief history of cranberries with the class:

  • The “cran” part of cranberry comes from crane because the flower of a cranberry flower looks like the head of a crane — even though one enthusiastic third grader felt strongly that it looks more like a jellyfish;
  • Native Americans foraged cranberries for hundreds of year on Cape Cod;
  • A unique Native American dish with dried meat and mashed cranberries is called pemmican;
  • Pilgrims traded weapons and blankets for cranberries with the Native Americans;
  • Ulysses S. Grant ordered the Union soldiers in the Civil War to have cranberries for Thanksgiving, which is how the cranberry sauce tradition began.

Once we settled into this history, we dove into the cranberry habitat by sharing pictures of real cranberry bogs and the animals found living there. Most students recalled the cranberry juice commercial that shows farmers wading in a very wet bog. This helped students make a connection to what the marshy, sandy cranberry bog might be like.

Then we taught the kids about the process of farming cranberries. This activity required students to use logic in helping a cranberry farmer rearrange her notes about what to do each season. When does the farmer need to irrigate the most? When does the farmer need to protect the crops from frost or insects? When can the farmer have time to fix the farm equipment? When does the farmer harvest and sell the crop?

Many students were able to connect seasons with weather patterns — such as hot weather in the summer calling for irrigation and frost being present in the winter. They were able to learn new weather patterns too, such as late spring frost that could occur when cranberry buds are present.

We ended our lesson with kid-friendly and healthy cranberry treats. The third graders sampled apple-cranberry-yogurt smoothies and the second graders were able to make cranberry “lava lamp” fizzy drinks. The fizzy drinks were especially fun for the kids to watch dried cranberries, or craisins, float up and down with the carbonation of the seltzer water.

At the end of most of our lessons, the students get a chance to reflect on what we learned and share their favorite parts of the day. With one of the Dudley Charter classes, one student mentioned that she was able to try cranberry juice for the second time and absolutely loved it… even though she disliked it the first time. Her experience can speak for every class we have with these kids.

The more exposure and knowledge kids get to healthy, fresh food, the more they are able to change their behaviors, eating habits, and perspective on what real food is.


Cranberry Recipes:
Cranberry-Apple Smoothie

1 apple chopped into pieces
A handful of cranberries (fresh or frozen)
1 teaspoon of sugar
1/2 cup of yogurt
Juice or water (optional)

Blend all ingredients in a blender or food processor. Add a bit of water or your choice of juice for a smoother texture and adjust the sugar amount to your sweetness liking. Pour in a cup and enjoy!

Crazy Cranberry Lava Lamp

6 ounces seltzer water
2 ounces cranberry juice
1 teaspoon dried cranberries

Pour seltzer water in a glass with the cranberry juice; mix together. Add the dried cranberries. After a few seconds, the cranberries will begin to float up and down. Drink up with a straw for a fun fizzy drink!