Nutrition Connections and 4-H Spark Curiosity in Nashua

A new program takes root at Fairgrounds Elementary

“How many of you believe that fruits and vegetables have super powers?”

That’s the question Awilda Muniz, Extension Teacher with UNH Cooperative Extension’s Nutrition Connections program, is asking a classroom of third graders at Fairgrounds Elementary School in Nashua. The students are skeptical. How can food have a super power? A few hesitantly raise their hands.

But that skepticism slowly melts away. After a short review of a previous lesson from Muniz on the importance of consuming fruits, veggies and whole grain foods, the third graders are given clear plastic containers filled with lemons, potatoes, wires, pennies, nails and a LED lightbulb. And as the students soon discover, it only takes a little tinkering to unlock the power hidden inside some humble produce.

The activity is part of “Making Electricity: A Step by Step Experiment,” a lesson developed by Muniz and Hillsborough County 4-H Program Manager, Jolee Chase. As a part of the six-week Nutrition Connections program offered at the school, Muniz and Chase collaborated on developing activities that would help teach students about the connection between vitamins, minerals and good health.

“By making electricity with fruits and vegetables, we hope that students make the connection to fruits and vegetables powering their bodies,” says Muniz.

In the classroom, Chase distributes the kits to each group of students. It’s not long before lemons are impaled with copper and nails and alligator clips and wires dangle wildly through the air. After about 30 minutes, LED lights are blinking, and all the while, students are asking questions while tinkering with their produce-powered circuits.

“This has been a great opportunity to work with Awilda on a science-based project, and a fun way to introduce the students to 4-H. We have a lot of STEM and health-based programs to offer,” Chase says.

As the experiment wraps up, Chase explains to the students that while the fruits and vegetables used in the activity aren’t safe to eat, they won’t go to waste. The potatoes will be composted and become fertilizer for her garden, she says, and the lemons will be used for cleaning buckets and sinks on her farm, further evidence of their hidden powers.

“It was important to both of us to include in the lesson some mindfulness that food wouldn’t be wasted,” Chase says.

The lesson ends and Muniz steps up to the front of the classroom. “How many of you believe fruits and vegetables have super powers?” she asks again.

This time, there’s no hesitation, just a hearty “Yes!” from the students and dozens of excited hands in the air.

Michael Harrington, school principal at Fairgrounds Elementary, gave permission to photograph. Wendy Stough's class was the fourth to participate in the Making Electricity experiment, along with John Flanagan, Kelly Lakanen and Jilene Marr’s classes. Muniz and Chase hope to offer the activity again next school year in the Nashua school district where the Nutrition Connections program is presented. To learn more about this program, Nutrition Connections or 4-H please contact Awilda Muniz or Jolee Chase.

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