Cups of bright green lettuce dot the cafeteria tables of Lansdowne Elementary School.
First-graders eat the crunchy, locally grown treat with their fingers; a few discover that a strip of lettuce can make a nice goatee.
But, that bit of improvisation aside, the idea of introducing kids not only to healthy food, but healthy food grown close to where they live, is at the heart of the Farm to School program, which offered first-grade students a taste test last week.
Even in a state as rural as Kentucky, a lot of students have no exposure to agricultural life, said Dr. Jayaram Srinivasan, chief resident in the preventive medicine department at the University of Kentucky and an advocate of the program.
"A lot of these kids don't even know where their food comes from," he said.
Farm to School is a cooperative effort among a number of local groups, including the UK College of Public Health, the Lexington- Fayette County Health Department and Lexington Farmers Market.
The program at Lansdowne is a pilot for a program that Srinivasan hopes will be offered eventually in all Fayette County public schools. The goal is to not only let kids understand where food comes from and why eating healthy food is important, but also to connect local farmers to the school system so that fresh, locally grown produce can become a standard part of a school menu.
Taste tests, like the one conducted last week, are merged with classroom lessons about food groups and making healthy choices.
Jennifer Rodabaugh's first-grade class has planted peas that they will harvest in the fall. She said she's been pleasantly surprised at how the kids have taken in the lessons they've learned in class about healthy eating.
"I'll hear them say things (to each other) like, 'You didn't get a vegetable today' or 'You didn't get a dairy, you got a juice instead'."
Madi Knapp, 7, said the program introduced her to turnips in an earlier taste test. She was surprised to learn that she liked them. Now, she said, she and her mom are thinking about planting a garden this spring.
She also learned that plants need a lot of care.
"If you want to grow good food you have to take care of them like a person," she said.
Not every student was sold on the idea of trying something new. The plate of first-grader Faith Osburn, 7, was void of anything green. She wouldn't even try the lettuce. She said she knew she wouldn't like it.
Instead she was happily snacking on a chicken patty in the shape of a smiley face. Her friend Faith Hubbard, 7, however, was thrilled with the green stuff.
"I love lettuce," she said. "I go crazy for it."
Gayle Tomkinson, who operates Berries on Bryan Station Farm, supplied the lettuce. During lunch she walked from table to table with a home-made display showing tiny lettuce seeds and different varieties of lettuce. "We grow more produce than we can sell," she said.
The Farm to School program already had benefitted her family's agricultural effort. Bryan Station High School now has a standing order for lettuce twice a week.
Srinivasan said the effort has been all volunteer. The group recently applied for a grant to continue to spread the word about healthy, locally grown food.
Lansdowne principal Leah Winkler is on board.
"The kids are getting familiar with agriculture and food," she said. "That is exciting."
Reach Mary Meehan at (859) 231-3261 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3261.