By Brenda Eubanks Burnette
In January, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) hosted virtual “Florida Citrus Squeeze” events at elementary schools throughout Florida with Chef Paula Kendrick and Miss Florida Citrus Leila Sabet. The program was announced in December to Florida food service personnel and teachers that participate in the division’s Harvest of the Month Program.
Participating schools were sent citrus, and virtual citrus-tasting events were scheduled with classrooms to expose students to all the great flavors of Florida citrus. In addition, “Produce at a Glance” cards and “I Tried it Stickers” were distributed to the students and referenced by Kendrick during the program.
Miss Florida Citrus was introduced as a special guest and explained how citrus gets from the grove to the grocery store. She also discussed the old adage of “beauty is on the inside,” for both people and for Florida citrus. Sabet told the students how citrus is part of a healthy lifestyle that can replenish nutrients after exercising.
“Spending my lunch breaks at work with the students is definitely a lunch well-spent,” said Sabet. “Our Citrus Squeeze conversations are necessary so we can talk about the nutritional value of citrus with elementary/middle school students, and ultimately, ensure we help instill these healthy habits at a young age.”
Sabet also engaged the students with fun facts on citrus, such as how grapefruit got its name (fruit grows on the tree in clusters, like grapes) and why Florida citrus plantings are still called groves rather than orchards (from the wild groves which sprouted up as the Indians and explorers made their way across Florida eating oranges and dropping the seeds). She ends her Citrus Squeeze sessions by asking students to guess how many different types of citrus exist, in addition to educating the students on the different types of citrus grown in Florida.
“The citrus industry is something I wish I learned more about when I was in elementary/middle school,” Sabet said. “Especially after speaking with Florida growers, citrus is not only a necessity to our daily diets, but also to Florida’s economic success. Students have been extremely receptive to our Citrus Squeeze presentations, giving feedback such as, ‘I didn’t like it … I LOVED it!’”
Classrooms were invited to share pictures of students with citrus smiles or other fun ways they are celebrating the Florida citrus season on the FDACS social media pages (Facebook: @FLFNW, Instagram: @FL_FNW). In addition, Miss Florida Citrus posted her photos of the virtual visits on all of her social media pages.
So far, she has participated in six Citrus Squeeze events, including Gadsden County, San Jose Elementary, John M. Sexton Elementary, South Grade Elementary and Walter Elementary, with three more scheduled over the next two weeks.