My dad always says, “Expectations lead to resentment. Manage your expectations." His words echoed in my mind as I walked down the hall of Meeting Street Elementary at Brentwood Middle School.

It was my first of many times walking down the hall, and with this internal mantra, I didn’t have expectations. To be honest, I didn’t even know where to begin if I was going to have expectations. There were so many unknowns, I was cautiously hopeful – split between feeling a deep passion for the work I was going to do with the Green Heart Project, and trying to avoid feeling disappointed if my contribution as a volunteer wasn’t what I had envisioned.

Green Heart and My Heart

vegetable, pasture, grass
Honorata (Nora) McIntyre

The Green Heart Project starts community gardens in schools with students from primarily low income families. These students are incorporated in every aspect of the garden, from making soil, to planting seeds, to harvesting and tasting the fruits and vegetables grown. Through this process, they learn about a healthy diet, environmental awareness, and responsibility, while also being exposed to positive risk taking and trying new foods.

My passion for this movement is rooted (pun intended) in my childhood, where my dietitian mother went to great lengths to expose me to and educate me about her true love: food. Food was like another parent in my upbringing; most of my memories are centered around food, and it even helped me ace a few tests in my AP Bio class (Krebs cycle fermentation, or GMO foods, anyone?). With healthy foods having such a prominent role in my life, I couldn’t imagine a childhood any different. By volunteering with Green Heart, I hoped to impart some of my knowledge and love for food on children as my mother had with me.

My first lesson: Peaches

coffee, tea, cake, beer
Honorata (Nora) McIntyre

My first day as a volunteer involved something called a “Taste Test,” where a fruit or veggie is brought in to the classroom of kids, the nutritional significance of the food is discussed, and then the kids get to try it. I was surprised to see that the Taste Test was simply going to be peach slices that day, but I was shocked when I saw how excited the children were. They weren’t excited because they loved peaches, though. They were excited because they had never had them before, and I was excited that they ended up begging for more after the initial slices were gone.

beer, coffee, cake
Honorata (Nora) McIntyre

That first Taste Test is probably my favorite memory as a volunteer, because it was then that I realized how truly blessed I was to be raised in the environment I was. Going into my volunteer position, I realized I had had food experiences that the kids I was working with probably had not. I had fermented kimchi, kefir, and kombucha on the counter in my kitchen back at home. The peaches helped me realized that my blessings didn’t stop at my counter, but went further into my lifestyle – things that I was so accustomed to eating I didn’t even realize they could be special.

My second lesson: Pickles

cake, pizza
Honorata (Nora) McIntyre

My second favorite memory happened two weeks ago, when we made pickles with the kids. We sliced cucumbers we had grown in the garden, and the kids worked together to develop a perfect pickle recipe. My group enthusiastic chose a salty brine, cinnamon, more salt, and garlic. Honestly, it sounded gross, but it was fun to see how proud they were of their slightly disgusting concoction. It was a good reminder that a) beauty is in the eye of the beholder and b) something little to you could be something huge to someone else – it’s all relative.

beer, cake
Honorata (Nora) McIntyre

It’s been about seven months since I first walked through those doors, and it’s safe to say that I’ve been blown away during my time as a volunteer. I have loved every second of being a Green Heart Buddy, and my efforts towards teaching the kids ended up teaching me something in the process.

If you are interested in participating in this truly amazing organization, the website contains more information about getting involved.