Daisy Gibson devoured every single crunchy green leaf on her lunch tray at Lowell Elementary School.
"It's yummy," Daisy, a first-grader, said of the vegetable.
She'd gobbled up kale, and the school had served up gobs of crispy, salted portions Wednesday as part of National Kale Day. This month, Missoula County Public Schools Food and Nutrition Services celebrates Farm to School Month with kale, apples and lunch with parents. (See box.)
"We like to know that we are supporting our economy while exposing our students to food that is grown right here in our home state," said Stacey Rossmiller, supervisor of Food and Nutrition Services.
At Lowell, Sally LePiane rang up lunches and chatted about her 29 years in food service. Much has changed since the cook and cashier first started working in the schools.
The Westside elementary school has embraced the farm-to-school movement with a flourishing garden of its own. Just this week, LePiane had chopped up eight squash and zucchini for the lunchroom salad bar, and the children ate up most of the raw veggies in one day, she said.
In years gone by, the children would get a lot of prepackaged foods – "It was terrible," LePiane said – but these days, the central kitchen serves up much more fresh food. It's growing vegetables itself, and this year, the herbs are a new and tasty addition.
"I think the quality is much better since they started using what they grow over there," LePiane said.
The school has celebrated National Kale Day the past couple of years. It serves kale chips because they're popular, but it also regularly provides the vegetable raw in the salad bar.
On Wednesday, the kale was moving fast on the lunch line, although not everyone was a willing taker. Ayden Hurd tried the chips, and he gave them his honest review.
"I took a bite of it, and I didn't like it. The taste is bad," Ayden said.
Lucky for him, corn kernels were also on the menu, and Ayden appeared to be in the minority when it came to kale. Shortly before noon, Aaron Ouellette, an aide at the school, approached with a request from a student for more greens.
"I have a second-grader who wants more kale," Ouellette said.
The districtwide celebration this month is taking place with help from Garden City Harvest, CATCH and FoodCorps, according to Missoula County Public Schools.