CSU grad students: Lettuce start eating more leafy greens

Kirsten Lackey, left, and Adrian Jesse are grad students in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition.

It’s not easy to make kale and chard sexy, but two Colorado State University graduate students have found clever ways to get everyone to eat more leafy greens in 2017.

Kirsten Lackey and Adrian Jesse, who are pursuing master’s degrees in the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, launched a campaign this month promoting the benefits of eating leafy greens, especially in Colorado. Putting what they’ve learned in the classroom into real-world practice, they have developed a host of videos, print resources and social media materials, addressing everything from washing techniques and tasty recipes to nutrition and tips for using lesser-known leafy greens that grow well in Colorado. Lackey and Jesse are distributing them around the state with the help of CSU Extension agents.

“As students, we spend a lot of time thinking about what would be effective outreach, so it’s been a good opportunity to work with people who are actually in this profession,” Lackey says. “In our nutrition education classes we learn how to organize the information and make it accessible to different audiences. Now we’re doing it.”

Their roots

Both students have farming backgrounds. Lackey did a one-year internship at a Florida nonprofit dedicated to fighting malnutrition by providing small-scale farmers in developing countries with sustainable agriculture resources and skills. She also spent two seasons working at Three Leaf Farm, a farm-to-restaurant operation in Lafayette, Colorado. Jesse spent three years working on Illinois farms, gaining experience with community-supported agriculture programs and selling produce at farmers’ markets.

So it was a natural fit when Associate Professor Marisa Bunning and Extension Specialist Elisa Shackelton planted the seed, telling the two grad students that the department and Extension needed more materials on the benefits of eating leafy greens. Lackey and Jesse took it from there, cultivating video, social media, photography and graphic design skills along the way.

“This allows them to take what they’ve learned out to people,” Shackelton says. “It’s a win-win, because they bring fresh ideas, and they’re part of our target audience.”

“I think they benefit from being in this environment,” Bunning adds. “Elisa and I guide them, editing their drafts, for example, to ensure the messages are consistent and fit the audience. Feedback is an important part of the process.”

Farmers benefit

It’s not just that leafy greens are high in nutrition — buying them locally also helps support Colorado farmers. Plus, the Centennial State is an ideal place to grow them yourself.

“With a lot of produce, you have about a three-month growing season here, but you can grow hardy leafy greens year-round if they’re covered,” says Jesse, adding that Colorado’s high altitude doesn’t hurt. “During a frost, sugars can be redistributed within those plants to protect leaves from freezing, resulting in a sweeter taste.”

Jesse and Lackey hope to set up an information booth at the Colorado Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association’s annual conference in February.

“Our main goal is to put as much information out there as possible,” Jesse says.

Future plans

While the campaign is expected to taper off in March, Lackey and Jesse hope to reap the benefits of their labor during the remainder of 2017. The materials will continue to be available online and may be distributed at local farmers’ markets during the growing season.

“Maybe it would help a farmer sell more chard if there was a recipe card at the booth,” Lackey says. “Familiarity is key. With our recipes, they are easy to prepare and can be the basis for a meal. We want people to be eating more leafy greens all year.”

More information can be found on the Live Eat Play Colorado and Colorado Farm-to-Table Facebook pages. The Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition is in CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.