Teaching and tasting a “ray of California sunshine”

(Or citrus, as it used to be marketed for folks back East when citrus was being established here in southern California.)

Many of you know I am six weeks into my role as the Farm to School Coordinator, a postion funded by a USDA grant we received in the fall.  It is a planning grant.  In other words, I have been calling myself “chief researcher” in our district’s process of exploring what infrastructure modifications (i.e. school lunch program) and education programming (i.e. nutrition lessons, fieldtrips, garden expansion, etc.) are a good fit for our schools.

One thing I’m looking at is getting free or discounted produce (local, seasonal and preferable organic) to work into lessons for University of Wednesday.  I haven’t figured this out yet, so last week I went to Whole Foods in Hillcrest and bought 5 each of every citrus item they had (excluding limes and lemons.)  Cut into sixths, this was the minimum amount I needed for a class of 26.  (It cost $50.)

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I set up the fourth grade room in groups of six, with each seat having a plate, pencil, and taste test sheet.  The citrus was set out in the middle of the table.  A bag to the side was open for rinds, to be later sent to the compost.

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Kids were to make their best guess on whether this was a new fruit for them.  After tasting, they were supposed to give each a rating and one descriptive word.

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I made a keynote presentation on citrus.  We talked a little bit about the history of citrus and where different varieties are grown today.  Here’s a story I told, like a botanical thriller (arms waving, eyes flashing):

In 1869, a serious citrus pest, the cottony-cushion scale was imported into the state, and within 15 years it threatened to destroy all of the citrus plantings in California.  In the late 1800’s, an entomologist affiliated with the USDA, Albert Koebele, conquered the cottony-cushion scale with a natural predator of the pest imported from Australia……

If told dramatically, you can now pause for effect, and ask kids what they thought it was, before revealing it to be

….the Vedalia beetle, more commonly known as the LADYBUG or LADYBEETLE (capitalization mine) .  It was the first spectacular biological-control success story.*

Then we took time to get up and wash our hands properly.  Properly.  It’s flu season.

And then we got to the fruit. I’d introduce one, give a few facts, and the kids would cut them into slices (with plastic knives.)  We got into this groove and it took to the end of the period to finish all of the varieties. Kids loved it!  I loved hearing them say things like, “I think I like the Cara Cara orange better than the Valencia” and “I’ve never had grapefruit before but I like this” and “I like the last tangerine better than the first tangerine which I already gave a 10.  Can I give a 10 plus?”

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*CaliforniaMaster Gardener Handbook, pg. 533.

9 thoughts on “Teaching and tasting a “ray of California sunshine”

  1. Great lesson! Looks fun. Our neighborhoods around here are ladened with citrus trees. So much of it goes uneaten. There has been some attempt by some folks to harvest people’s unwanted fruit to give away to food banks. People practically beg you to take it off their hands. Some of it is so delicious. And one has the luxury of making fresh squeezed o.j in the morning. Which part of S Cali are you in?

    • We are in the San Diego mountains at 4,000 feet so naturally we can’t grow citrus—but it’s all around us to the north, west, east (down the hill). There is a local woman who is working on creating a gleaning group to capture unused harvests like you mentioned. Such a shame it ever goes to waste!

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