by Eliza Hudson, FoodCorps service member, Guilford County, North Carolina, Guilford County Cooperative Extension

“Would you like to try this Rad-Cuke salad today? It’s got radishes, cucumbers, lemon, olive oil, salt and a liiiittle pepper in it. You can vote for what you think at the end of lunch. Did you know we’re growing radishes—that’s what the ‘rad’ is for—in our school garden? They’re really good.” These are the words I hear Allen, one of my 3rd grade students at Oak View Elementary, murmuring to a table full of 1st graders. Allan is in the middle of a cafeteria taste test, entirely planned and conducted by the students in his grade—that’s 82 students. It’s louder in the lunchroom and seems more chaotic than normal today, but go ahead! Lean in a little closer! You’ll find Oak View is part of an educational experiment unlike any other.

I am a second-year FoodCorps service member in Guilford County, North Carolina. Under the supervision of the Guilford County Cooperative Extension urban horticulture and 4-H programs, I manage the school gardens, teach at least one grade level weekly food education lessons, and conduct cafeteria taste tests, like the one we’re hosting today.

Last year, my fellow service member Leah Klaproth and I started conducting Harvest of the Month taste tests in High Point. We started small, with apple cider and applesauce donated by our neighborhood Whole Foods. 80% of the time, we ran the taste tests. At Oak View, however, the 3rd grade teachers wanted 3rd graders to participate. So Leah and I led small groups of 3rd graders in making a raw kale salad. It was so successful we made mashed sweet potatoes two months later.

This year, I knew we would continue to involve students in the taste tests at Oak View. Together with the 3rd grade teachers, we began preparing for the event an entire month ahead of time. 82 3rd graders planted radishes in March and voted for which radish recipe they wanted to make for the school to try in April. They decided on a recipe my mentor, Lola Bloom of City Blossoms in D.C. shared with me at national orientation, appropriately named “Rad-Cuke Salad.”

In our weekly lessons over the next month, the 3rd graders worked in one of five taste-test teams: research, marketing, art, serving, and cooking. The Research team developed a pre-taste test survey to find out how familiar their peers were with radishes and cucumbers. The Marketing team wrote letters to parents and the local newspaper, morning announcements, and a list of places to put event posters around the school for maximum reach. The Art team made informational posters with fun radish facts and pictures. The Serving team wrote behavior agreements for how to politely offer a sample to students and teachers in the lunchroom. And, predictably, the Cooking team practiced making the recipe using basic knife skills and proper sanitation with me before the big day.

When tasting day finally rolled around, we were ready—3rd graders, 3rd grade teachers, community volunteers, the cafeteria manager, FoodCorps service members, and a FoodCorps site supervisor. But really, it was the  3rd graders who ran the show. They knew exactly what to do: slice the radishes thinly (don’t forget your “bearclaw” grip!), ask each student if they would care to try a sample (get teacher permission first!), take lots of pictures (with iPads!), and pass out voting stickers to everyone who tried the sample (did you love it, like it, or just try it?). The rest of us were only there to help them navigate the noisy lunchroom and give positive affirmations of the rad-jobs they were doing.

It’s been quite an evolutionary journey of taste tests here in Guilford County over the past 2 years. Students like those at Oak View are capable of radically changing the way we experience food in cafeterias across the country. They just need us to give them a chance.

Rad-Cuke SaladIngredients:2 cucumbers3 radishes1 lemon1 Tablespoon olive oilSaltPepper

Directions:• Wash hands and cucumbers and radishes. Remove radish leaves.• If you do not like the skin of the cucumber, take a peeler and peel it off.• Cut the cucumber into tiny bite-sized chunks.• Carefully cut the radishes into pretty slices.• Squeeze the lemon into the bowl and fish out the seeds with a spoon. Mix in the olive oil, a little pepper and a pinch of salt.• Add the cucumber and radish and toss to coat with the lemon-olive oil sauce. Wasn’t that easy?

Recipe credit: City Blossoms