What is your official title?
I am the Fresh Food Fairy.
What’s an average day in the ‘Zoo look like for you?
Nutrition education programs and making kale chips is what I’ve been mostly consumed with. I actually have not had as many nutrition education programs scheduled this fall because of the work being done with the kale chips, as well as teachers getting back into their routines early in the year, they don’t typically want to bring in special guests. They want to get into their groove before they bring people in, which I appreciate, because I’d rather come into a class that’s chill and everyone knows what the expectations are.
What type of nutrition education do you do?
The program I do most often is Fresh Food is Fun, which is all about having fun with and learning to like vegetables. More recently, I have visited middle school classrooms with my bike powered blender. I talk about the smoothie ingredients, and mostly my big focus is food miles. My blueberries come from Mitchell Farm, 33 miles away in Grand Junction, so I have a piece of paper that I show the kids with the number ’33’ on it. I have another one from Florida that’s 100 miles plus, and one from Chile that’s 5,000 miles plus away. Then I have the numbers for strawberries and bananas and how many miles away those are sourced as well, to which I ask the kids what they think the numbers mean. They’ve been studying this type of thing, so they guess things like calories, but they’ve never heard of food miles before. Simply put, it’s the amount of miles from where the food is grown to where it is consumed.
I talk about how great it is to hand money straight to the farmers; they work really hard, and it’s great to know that I can help support them and know that they don’t have to share their profits with a distributor or a grocery store. I know what their growing practices are, and share the benefits of having that relationship with the farmers. It’s interesting hearing the kids’ perspectives on the freshness of food, and the amount of what they call “poison” is on the food they eat. The great thing about going to market is, they can ask the farmers themselves and educate themselves from a young age as to what they’re putting in their bodies.
I teach about organic and fair trade and what that means. Fair trade is all about fair payment. I also share with them that there is no child labor, which I feel is important to share with kids, and important for them to know that child labor in food production is real.
It’s really challenging, because I don’t want to scare them, and most of them probably can’t afford to come to farmer’s markets and buy happy meat, but the teachers are great and help to clarify that they won’t get sick if they don’t eat organic and things of that nature. I am just trying to teach that the likelihood from a public health perspective that sickness from factory farming is growing. I’m trying to bring awareness. I don’t think it’s something that kids are learning; it’s something that I didn’t learn until just very recently. I’m working on finding that fine line.
What does the Fresh Food Fairy do?
After all of the education, we make the smoothies! The kids get to ride the bike – we just did slushies with apple cider, so good – that’s a newer addition. Everyone loves to ride the bike, and they guzzle down the smoothies and it’s just really fun. They ask such great questions too, and I’m so happy they’re curious.
When I do my Fresh Food is Fun presentation, I say dip ‘em and get silly with your food. A lot of people have a problem with dipping veggies in ranch; do I like all of the unpronounceable chemicals in ranch, no, but if it’s helping kids to like veggies, I’m all about it. I compare dips to training wheels; sometimes you just need a little help getting over that hump initially, and I think that’s fine.
I give everyone a bag of veggies and we do a carrot crunching contest. Then we do green bean mustaches, saw down a broccoli tree, wiggle your cabbage, eat spinach like a giraffe eating leaves off a tree, find cool shapes in the cucumber seeds, things like that. We talk about the colors and eating a rainbow – I wear rainbow socks and bright colors. We talk about all of the vitamins in the colorful fruits and veggies to make them smarter and stronger. I don’t say healthy because I don’t think it means a lot to kids; I don’t think it motivates them to eat vegetables. I choose to say ‘stronger’ and ‘smarter’ because I think all kids want to be those things and it resonates with them.
Can you tell us about your background/passion?
I have a degree in elementary education from Western, and I taught for a year in Detroit before I got married and moved back here. We had kids a little sooner than planned, but it ended up being a great thing because teaching in a classroom was not for me. I wanted everything to be magical and fun, and it’s nearly impossible to pull that off; the testing was not my favorite. I was fortunate to be able to stay home and spend time with my kids.
Early on in being a parent, I joined the People’s Food Co-op board, which was about 12 years ago, and I’ve been on it ever since. I think all of my work at the Co-op really informed my food education, and it’s something I’m very interested in. I read about it and talk about it with others as much as possible, and make friends with as many farmers as I can to better understand all of this. I’ve always loved farmers markets; if I’m traveling somewhere, it’s always on my list to go to the farmer’s market in that town. Grocery shopping is super fun for me! I just love food.
I grew up eating really beautiful food. My family eats well – lots of fruits and vegetables – I just grew up surrounded by beautiful food all the time. Not that we didn’t have cupcakes and brownies and Kraft macaroni and cheese, but there were always fruits and vegetables. I remember when I was little, I was coming in the house from playing outside, and my mom made this fruit face, and I thought that was so cool. It stuck with me, and how important it is to make fresh food fun. She always said that if you cut it up and put it out on the table, people will eat it; if the carrots and celery are in fridge, nobody’s going to think twice about them. I definitely commend my parents for making it fun and making it a normal thing to eat lots of fruits and veggies.
I started working in the schools again as an aide. The aides work in the lunchroom, where I saw so many fresh fruits and veggies being thrown out. I co-facilitate a group called Healthy Foods in Schools for Kalamazoo County, and we are trying to improve the kind of food kids are getting while at school. But sometimes, the food was decent looking, and I couldn’t believe how many kids tossed fresh fruits and veggies without taking a single bite; now, sometimes it was cooked vegetables that didn’t look so good, so I understood that, but other times it was a fresh apple or baby carrots that were getting tossed. And with the short amount of time the kids get for lunch, they probably were going to eat their pizza or macaroni before eating their apple.
I feel like kids try food and don’t like it, so they write it off forever. In my Fresh Food is Fun presentation, one of my big things is teaching that taste buds can learn to like new foods. I use learning to walk as a comparison, that we didn’t know how to when we were born, but we practiced and practiced and eventually could do it. It’s the same with our taste buds, and we have to practice liking veggies. I’ve heard a lot of different things scientifically, but I tell kids 20 – I think they need to have a big number in their head – so I tell them if you taste a vegetable 20 times on 20 different days, more likely than not, you’re going to start to like it.
What’s going on with your kale chips?
I’ve been getting CSA dropped on my porch for over 10 years. When I first started, it was a winter-share, which is probably not the best way to start a CSA; it was kale and rutabagas, we were lucky if we got carrots. I didn’t grow up eating kale and didn’t know what to do with it, but we had so much. I would chop it up small and try to hide it. I’d make some kale salad and try to feed it to my extended family and they were like nah, we’ll just stick with lettuce.
Then I heard about kale chips. I started making kale chips and experimenting with flavors. Wherever I would take them people would say how good they were and that I should start selling them because people would definitely buy them. I heard that for a few years and then thought I’d give it a try. I brought my kale chips to this event the Nature Center holds, and I sold out! That was two years ago, and last winter I did it again, and they sold well again. I started selling them at the winter Farmer’s Market, but then I couldn’t get wholesale kale February through May, so I stopped.
I started again in June and they were well received at the summer market. I started making them in the Can-Do Kitchen, and now they’re in stores. Education is where my heart is and it feeds my soul; I don’t really want to make kale chips all day every day, and I really want to educate. I realized that maybe the kale chips could do a few things: they could create excitement over a vegetable, and maybe the money made could support my nutrition education programs. I put my recipe on the website because education is what it’s about.
What do you love most about Kalamazoo?
The people and the food. In particular, the food community, but for me the heart of that is the People’s Food Co-op. I love the community; we have wonderful people here. I also love how the energy of the people is extended and reflected in the Kalamazoo Farmer’s Market.
What have you been jammin’ to recently? What’s on the iPod?
I’m into the local folky stuff. I love all the Kalamazoo peeps, EarthWorks Musicians, Red Tail Ring, Red Sea Pedestrians, Corn Fed Girls, Maraj, Celery City Sodbusters – they’re all at the top of my list. I go to Square Dance Kalamazoo at Bell’s, too. They have it once a month on Monday’s, and it’s great music and dancing.
How do you take your coffee?…or do you?
Tea all the way. Chai is my favorite. My favorite is with apple cider as my sweetener – ‘chaider’. I wish I came up with that on my own.
Tell us about your family.
I am married to Matt Frayer, and we have two kids, a 12 year-old-boy and a 10 year-old-girl. I love the ages that they’re at; it’s such a fun time because they can do everything and they’re independent. They’re really cool. They’re getting sassy and tweeny, but it’s definitely been a spiritual growing experience for me.
Do you have a “go to” spot in Kalamazoo?
Probably the Co-op, but I have lots of favorite places. If I’m out with friends, we’ll go for a walk in the woods, like the Lillian Anderson Arboretum or Kleinstuck and Asylum Lake. I love the Nature Center and Markin Glen – in the winter I like to cross country ski, and those hills are just wild.
When you were younger, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I wasn’t one of those who knew what I wanted to do, but knew that I wanted to do something artsy and something where I was working with my hands. I’ve always liked working with young people, and because I liked that, I decided to go into education. My parents were always great at supporting me when I was growing up; it was really great feeling so supported as an artist. A lot of what I do now is food art, so I am getting to express the artist side while educating.
If you could give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be?
Maybe I would’ve spent a little more time hanging out with my grandparents. That time ended sooner than I would have liked. I have very fond memories of being in the kitchen cooking with my Nana, so I would tell myself to spend some more time with them.
What is your dream for the future of the Fresh Food Fairy?
I would love to visit more classes, inspire more people to eat more veggies and fruits, and teach about the food system and how it plays into our lives socially, politically and economically. I’d like to have more programs and more food fairies, or maybe Fresh Food Folks. It’s good to evolve, and there could be all sorts of fresh food folks – people can come up with their own characters. I think it’s important for kids to see people who look like them sharing information with them. Whatever you do, make it fun, and the rest is flexible. Keep it light, but also ask the hard questions.
How can parents help their kids learn more about healthy fruits and vegetables?
Play with your food. Have carrot crunching contests at the dinner table. It’s little things like that. Competition works well for a lot of kids. And making it really beautiful, and letting the kids play with their food. I know you have to draw the line with that and what’s polite and what’s not, but if you’re getting kids to eat veggies and fruits they wouldn’t normally eat, that’s a win.
And change things up. I do a lot of raw veggies, so for example, find some big carrots and run them through a food processor and make carrot chips. It’s fun and exciting. Let kids cook, let them use a knife and chop stuff up; if they are a part of the process, they’re more likely to eat the food.
Hether, thank you for taking the time to meet with us and sharing your thoughts! Keep up with Hether (The Fresh Food Fairy) on facebook. Also, be sure to follow us on facebook and twitter for updates.