For the Baker City Herald
HAINES - Pirates, owls, monsters, princesses with pink skirts - have potatoes every taken on so many appearances?
Elementary students in the Baker School District were encouraged to take a potato home this month and decorate it however they liked to create a work of art.
"I made one, an example for the kids - a 'cowch' potato," said Linda Hatfield at Haines School. (The potato, dressed as a cow, lounges on a couch.)
At Haines, about 50 potatoes returned in a new form. Another 150 were decorated between South Baker and Brooklyn elementary schools. The potatoes were donated by Brent Kerns.
At Haines, a potato painted jet black stands out on the table - titled Darth "Tater" by Remington Anderson.
The potato project is part of year-long effort to introduce more produce into local schools, an Oregon Department of Education program called Harvest for Schools.
Jessica Wickert, food service director for the district, attended a training before the school year started.
Each month she focuses on a different fruit or vegetable. The first few months of school featured watermelon and tomatoes, which she bought from Val's Veggies.
"It was perfect - I was able to get tons of watermelon and tomatoes," Wickert said.
She tries to create a game or activity for each month. For tomatoes, she challenged students to guess the ingredients in ketchup.
"Then I made them homemade ketchup. Which was a bigger task than I thought," she said.
She also made homemade pumpkin pie as a prize for the trivia question during squash month.
(Wickert, who started her job in August, graduated from Baker High School in 2000 and went to culinary school in Bend. She worked at Bend restaurants for four years, and then managed the kitchen at Anthony Lakes Mountain Resort for three years.)
Each month, the featured produce makes an appearance on each school's salad bars, and Wickert also visits classrooms to talk about food and nutrition. In December, she brought samples of edamame (soybeans).
"I thought the kids would hate it - Haines really loved it and asked for more," she said.