WATERVILLE — Ten-year-old Eva Burdin plucked pieces of roasted carrot and parsnip from her plate and took two bites, her eyes searching the ceiling as she chewed.

“The carrot tastes sweet,” she said. “The parsnip is chewy. It tastes like a cooked carrot. I think it tastes organic. I would have it on Thanksgiving or something.”

Across the table from her in the Albert S. Hall School cafeteria, Savanna Scanlin, 11, said she liked the carrot, but it didn’t taste really great.

“It’s a so-and-so taste,” she said. “I took a bite of the parsnip. It’s a little bitter. It tastes like raw potato. I’m very picky with my food. I don’t like cold foods. It kind of takes away the flavor.”

The girls were among 70 fifth-graders taking part in a farm-to-school taste-testing event Wednesday at the school that included a discussion with Nell Finnigan of Misty Brook Farm in Albion, which supplied the vegetables; and Sam McClean, a FoodCorps service member who has been working with the children at the school since September. He will continue through the next school year.

FoodCorps is part of AmeriCorps. Service members work in schools and with educators and community leaders to encourage children to eat good food and lead healthy lives.

McClean has been teaching the Hall School students about nutrition, engaging them in hands-on activities such as gardening and cooking and ensuring them access to school meals created with produce from local farms. The students grow lettuce, basil and micro-greens in school hallways and soon will plant their annual outdoor garden.

“He’s doing fabulous,” fifth-grade teacher Mary Dunn said of McClean’s work with children.

Dunn said the school has been asking the University of Maine Cooperative Extension for a FoodCorps worker for years. The taste-testing Wednesday was sponsored by Maine Agriculture in the Classroom with grants funded by fees paid for Maine agriculture license plates.

The FoodCorps program is working, Dunn said. At the beginning of the school year, students started making cole slaw themselves with cabbage and carrots they grew in the school gardens. Then they ate the slaw. Ever since then, when school cook Ann Marquis makes cole slaw, the children can’t get enough of it. Previously, few touched it. “She can’t keep it on the salad bar,” Dunn said. “They eat it all.”

McClean, 27, came to Waterville from Oregon, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in public health from Oregon State University. He said he had been applying for a couple of years to be a FoodCorps service worker and finally was accepted and assigned to Waterville.

He said his goal is to make the program self-sustaining by involving the community.

Amy Calder can be contacted at 861-9247 or at:

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Twitter: @AmyCalder17