Fresh Food Fairy gives fresh perspective to veggies and fruits

While the Fresh Food Fairy doesn’t leave cold, hard cash for lost teeth or a trail of glittering dust in her wake, Hether Frayer’s affect on the health and wellness of kids is still magical.

Sharing a cup of coffee with her at The Black Owl Cafe in Kalamazoo, one can’t help but be charmed by her energy. Her perpetual smile should be enough to convince doubters of her passion for spreading the pros of healthy eating to local schools, churches, and any other venue willing to give her a voice.

But Frayer’s enthusiasm goes well beyond appearances.

Thanks to a Good Neighbor Grant from the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, Frayer has made it her mission to teach children across Kalamazoo County how to love (or at least like) fresh food. These aren’t your standard chalkboard lectures either, and the only way to fail her test is to not give fresh fruits and veggies a chance.

"Veggies get a bad rap, so getting kids to even try them is an accomplishment," she says. "My goal is to inspire good nutrition by making eating veggies fun. I show kids that fresh food is the best because it has the brightest colors, coolest shapes, a variety of textures, delicious flavors, and it fuels our bodies to grow strong and smart."

Frayer has a bachelor’s degree in education from Western Michigan University, and launched her persona as The Fresh Food Fairy in the fall of 2011. She offers demonstrations in classrooms, primarily catering to students in kindergarten through middle school. Her idea was born from one of the Foundation's ChangeMakers workshops, which bring people together to help them turn their passions into projects that benefit the community.

The Fresh Food Fairy not only has kale wings and a beet heart, but also wears a virtual rainbow to remind young people to eat food with more colors. She collaborates with teachers to incorporate age-level appropriate curriculum.

"My presentations are lively and hands-on," Frayer says. "Keeping the discussion fun helps kids of all ages build positive associations with fresh food, making them more likely to eat it the next time it shows up on their plates."

During her 60-minute introductory course, Frayer explains the five reasons why fresh food is fun (colorful, shapes and textures, yummy flavors, and key to healthy growth). Her presentations also encourage plenty of laughter and munching through activities like crunching carrots as loud as possible, karate chomping green beans, creating veggie faces, and sampling seasonal fruits and vegetables.

"With the younger kids, we all crunch together," she says. "With the older kids, it becomes more of a competition for who will hold the prized title of crunching the loudest."

When the crunching and giggling finally stop, The Fresh Food Fairy takes a moment to plug MyPlate, revealing how half of our plate at every meal should be filled with vegetables and fruits.

"I tell students our taste buds need a lot of practice, so they should keep trying veggies and fruits even if they think they don’t like them," Frayer says. "It can take our taste buds up to 20 tries to get used to a new food."

Along with her introductory course, Frayer also recently debuted a new demonstration to fourth and fifth graders at Northglade Montessori Magnet School. The presentation covered food miles (how far our food travels to get to our plates) and the mystery of antioxidants, as well as featured her one-of-a-kind blender.  

Frayer pedals a bicycle, an old Schwinn picked up via Craigslist, to blend smoothies made from of tasty ingredients like bananas, blueberries, strawberries, honey, and Mediterranean yogurt. The blender is not faster than a speeding bullet, but it’s allure is super nevertheless.

"My sister, who lives in Minneapolis, nationally known for cycling, gave me the idea after she saw a bike blender at a farmers market," Frayer says. "I thought, 'there’s a fantastic way to get people excited about enjoying fresh, local ingredients.'"

The Fresh Food Fairy’s pedal-powered smoothies are available year-round for school presentations, special events and parties, and from May through October at the 100 Mile Market at the People’s Food Co-op. Because the pedaling is more than half the fun, she lets kids and adults go for a spin on her bike-powered blender as well.

This year, Frayer would like to reach 25 classrooms and 450 students. "The domestic food and beverage industry spends billions of dollars in advertising every year, marketing mostly junk food. As the Fresh Food Fairy, my job is to show that apples can be as much fun as sugar-coated cereal."

In addition to the Kalamazoo Community Foundation, Frayer’s partners include Fair Food Matters, People’s Food Co-op, and the Sustainable Communities Initiative for the Vine and Edison neighborhoods. She appreciates the support of the community and her partners because she understands the challenges she faces.

"Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years," she says, "and while there’s a lot more awareness now, a lot more work being done to change things like school lunches, there isn’t enough happening to educate and entice kids to actually eat the healthier food options they’re served."

Outside of the classroom setting, Frayer does community family cooking demonstrations, and hopes to reach more children through schoolroom cafeterias, where she’s seen too many fresh foods get tossed in favor of Cheetos and other processed snacks.

Loyal to Local
For her bike-blended smoothies, Frayer buys her blueberries from Mitchell Farm near Bangor, her strawberries from Ware Farm in Bear Lake, her honey from Mike’s Apiaries in Vicksburg, and her yogurt from Mattawan Artisan Creamery. She is also no stranger to shopping at the Kalamazoo Farmers Market, 1204 Bank St., and the People’s Food Co-op, 507 Harrison St., a cooperative grocery store that strives to sell the freshest, healthiest organic and local food at reasonable prices. Frayer has been on the People’s Food Co-op Board of Directors for nine years.   

"It’s tough in our state right now. There are too many people struggling," Frayer says. "But while it does take time, cooking with local, fresh food can be very affordable." In fact, those who are eligible for the state’s supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP) can use their Bridge Card to shop for food at area farmers markets. The amount of money spent is matched with Double Up Food Bucks bonus tokens that can then be exchanged for fruits and vegetables grown in Michigan.

To enchant her subjects, the Fresh Food Fairy always sets out to find the most outrageous, kid-friendly produce--from purple beans to green cauliflower. Whether she’s home or away from home, Frayer remains a loyal to local whenever possible.

"The closer to the source I can buy my food, the better I feel from a health and an economic standpoint," she says. "I love to hand my money to the people who grew it."

Amie Heasley is a freelance writer who lives in Portage.

Photos by Erik Holladay.
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