By: Ben Massoud, Communications Manager, United Fresh Produce Association
“When you come to camp, you don’t automatically think of fresh. We sought to change that,” says Cory Harrison, Camp Executive Director of YMCA Camp Greenville, in the mountains near Cleveland, SC. Thanks to a United Fresh Start Foundation Community Grant, that change came last summer.
Before the grant, 95 percent of vegetables and fruit served to campers were canned or frozen. Now, almost 65 percent of produce is fresh. In just one summer, more than 1,000 pounds of fresh fruits and vegetables were provided to 2,000 summer campers through a salad bar, meals, and trays of cut fruit and veggies.
“I can’t think of a single meal where the fruit and vegetable trays aren’t empty,” says Cory. The kids aren’t just taking the fresh produce – they’re eating it, too. They learn about food waste and responsible eating habits from a series of three characters who join them for meals. Captain Food Waste, a superhero the kids summon by chanting his name and banging on tables, teaches campers where their produce comes from and encourages them to select only as much food as they can eat. Compost Kid weighs the food waste, and, if there’s a lot of it, the antagonist, Darth Food Waste, makes an appearance.
While it’s rewarding to observe how much the campers love eating fresh produce, providing it is especially difficult, given the camp location. Situated in the mountains, camp staff drive 20- to 36-miles to and from the closest stores to purchase the fresh produce. But, as Cory remarks, “we do it because it’s the right thing. We teach our kids every day to do the right thing even when it’s difficult. We must also live this at the administrative level.”
The effort is paying off. Thanks to the recent increase in fresh fruits and vegetables, additional changes to make the camp food healthier, and other cultural shifts in the camp, YMCA Camp Greenville enrollment has risen by almost 500 campers, with a retention rate that skyrocketed and has surpassed the national average.
Each of those kids will benefit from healthier meals and snacks, full of fresh fruits and vegetables. And by making healthy eating fun through programming and lunchtime superheroes and villains, YMCA Camp Greenville is building habits that will last a lifetime.