Franklin County elementary school students have been enjoying fruit and veggie snacks all year, and last week, they took some time to celebrate their success.

On Oct. 3, a raucous audience of pre-Kindergartners through fifth graders, led by staff dressed in overalls and straw hats, went “down in the cornfield” to celebrate just one of the many vegetables and fruits that they enjoy three times a week, as part of a special state grant the district has received for the past three years.

With an elaborate cornfield set adoring the cafetorium stage, complete with hay bales and scarecrows, created by food service supervisor Terry Hilton the program touted the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program, which provide students on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays with a healthful snack to enjoy outside of their regular breakfast and lunch.

Funded by a $29,500 grant, the program is intended to introduce students to fresh, nutritious items that they may otherwise not be familiar with, and to accompany this experience with fun facts that may influence their dietary habits positively.

Hilton said the variety is vast, and has included everything from broccoli florets to cauliflower, from star fruit to squash and everything in-between – asparagus, onions, potatoes, carrots, green beans, kale, celery, tomatoes, even dandelions.

“We’ve had them before,” she said. “They can dip them into ranch or Italian dressing.”

Plenty of fruits are also among the selections, including the exotic such as breadfruit, and each is portioned according to the students’ ages.

“There are no requirements for specific serving size; it’s what’s appropriate for age group,” Hilton said. “Sliced apples may be appropriate for lower grades and whole for the upper grades.”

Everything is served raw, but since the teachers often have crock pots in their classrooms, they are free to modify the offering to make them more delectable to young taste buds.

“We’ve had collard greens and turnip greens and cooked them in the crock pot,” she said. “We ask them to try them as raw, which is at the highest nutritional value that there is.

“The elementary kids love everything that we do and they eat it,” Hilton said. “Middle school are the picky eaters and the high school have so many choices that if they can’t find anything they like I’m sorry. We give them a variety of choices, that’s for sure.”

While the Apalachicola Bay Charter School was the district’s pilot program, they took part only for the first two years, and this year it is limited to the main campus.

For the first two years of the annual celebration, Hilton chose watermelon and bananas as the “fruit of honor,” so this year she decided to go with corn. The program was busy with a changeover from a Montgomery, Ala. distributor to one out of Port Orange, all through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Hilton went with a fall theme of “down in the cornfield.”

Robin Tennille, director of food service, and Bill Mahan, from the Franklin County Extension Office, kicked off the program, with Hilton and April Dalton, manager of food service for all three school lunch programs, dressed like they just walked off from a hard day’s work in an Iowa cornfield.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services sent Robin Safley, director of food, nutrition and wellness, and Aimee Ashley, director of the statewide fresh fruit and vegetable program.

Safley presented the school with an award for a breakfast week promotion a few weeks earlier, in which students were served a breakfast of waffles for lunch to increase participation in the breakfast program, available at no cost to all students.

“It’s hard to get the upper grades to eat breakfast,” Hilton said.

Franklin County School administrators joined Miss Seahawk-Robyn Segree, Teen Miss Seahawk-Myranda McLeod, Junior Miss Seahawk-Tressie Edwards, Little Miss Seahawk September Ferrell, Tiny Miss Seahawk- Mahala Griggs and the high school cheerleaders in building enthusiasm for the “corny” morning. Each student left with a bag of popcorn to enjoy.

The fourth graders provided poems, and the fifth graders shared art, a skit and an Indian dance to mark the event, which was highlighted by a shucking contest for the students. Brice Gilbert won with his quick hands and determination.