Ashley Turk

About Ashley Turk

I am a FoodCorps volunteer serving with Luther College in partnership with the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative.

A Spring in My Step

“If this were a TV show, it would be called the Walking School Bus. You know, like the Magic School Bus, but better”.


“This is so fun, we should do this every day”.


“I love walking to school”.

These are the happy musings of elementary school students that greeted the spring revival of the walking school bus in Oelwein; over fifty children walked to school during its return in April. DSCN1334Held monthly, the event is a fantastic opportunity for exercise before the school day. This is the first year of the walking school bus, and the pilot is a huge success thanks to the dedication of district staff Terri Zuck and Barb Schmitz. These two women go to great lengths to ensure the well-being of their students. They constantly seek out opportunities for healthy living, from after school cooking classes to summer school garden activities. Never afraid to think outside the box, Terri and Barb will try anything once! DSCN1324Thanks to their collaborative efforts, it has been a phenomenal year for our wellness efforts in Oelwein. The district has hosted a 1K race, Parent Empowerment Workshops, taste tests at Conferences, fitness camps, and regular nutrition lessons in grades K – 3. Outside of school, Barb and Terri have become my friends, turning Oelwein into a home away from Decorah. Each graciously hosts me overnight when I am in town, serving me delicious food and making me feel like family. Without Barb and Terri, I would have been lost and not nearly as effective in my service. Their guidance has transformed the district into a welcoming place, eager to enhance student and staff health. With these women on my side, I have a spring in my step at the school year draws to a close, gladly planning future projects to come. DSCN1349


Eat five servings of fruits or vegetables a day. Keep screen time under two hours outside work. Drink zero sugar-sweetened beverages. Exercise at least thirty minutes daily. These statements do not describe the newest fitness fad sweeping the nation or a recommendation from Oprah’s personal trainer(s). Instead, they comprise the core messaging of Food and Fitness.


For the past eight weeks, our partner organizations and we at Food and Fitness have competed in our own ”Fitness Frenzy” in order to live our values (practice what we preach). Each week added a new task, and challengers logged their points in a spreadsheet to tally the goals completed.


This final week’s task has been my favorite thus far – “gratitude”. You may write down your personal gratitude statement or reach out to someone and express gratefulness.  This simple act of reflection has made me appreciate the wonderful people in my life.


Specifically, I am forever grateful for the support network that has grown during my year of service with FoodCorps. This network continually supports, challenges, and pushes me to live a more grounded, health-centered life. DSCN1042This support came in handy during a national visit in February, when visiting Iowa FoodCorps service members assisted with my cooking club in Waukon. We made “rainbow vegetable pizza” and “avocado and agave pudding” with fruit for dipping. (I never have to look far for recipes, our own Paige Wettach is a guru on tasty food blogs and she is my go-to gal for all things delicious).


During the club, the FoodCorps ladies dug in, helping my students chop veggies (not easy with a plastic knife) and whip up the avocados. In the midst of the busy work of the kitchen, over the giggles of students, I could not help but think “there is no where else in the world I would rather be right now.”


Gratitude indeed.

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Getting a Head Start

The importance of forming healthy habits early in life cannot be overstated. Whether we pick up good or bad routines, once set, they can be difficult to undo. Many doctors, teachers, and parents agree about this statement; I learned it from firsthand experience. As a child, I was overweight and terribly out of shape for the majority of my elementary school years. Photos tell the story – luckily I have found and destroyed most photographic evidence of that part of my past (thank goodness Facebook was not yet a part of life).  My two favorite childhood hobbies, reading and eating, did not bode well for a healthful, active lifestyle. To date, those are still my favorite pastimes. Now, however, I work to eat the right foods and balance my leisure reading with activity (hello Zumba dance class). That is why I love any chance to dig in and interact with younger students. Giving students knowledge about food choices early in their academic career is an important step towards setting them on a path to a healthier life. I had plenty of opportunity to empower younger students to make informed food choices in Oelwein this week. For Head Start Parent night, we made kale and strawberry smoothies using a bike-powered blender. DSCN0942

The recipe was kid friendly and taster approved, green mustaches covering the faces of all.


In two elementary classes, we planted leek and onion seeds.  “How long before our seeds will grow, will they be ready tomorrow?” I had to laugh at this concerned question from a kindergartner. Prior to planting our leek and onion seeds, I had shown the class a time-lapse video of seeds sprouting, roots and all. I explained again and again that our seeds would not grow at the speed of light, and it would take time and care before we saw any green bursting out of our soil.

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Regardless of their concept of time, the students were so excited to feel the dirt and sow the seeds (or toss about messily, the rows will be anything but organized). One student, the designated waterer, was so involved in misting the seeds that he did not want to go outside for recess! If the seeds do sprout, students will have the opportunity to take samples home to plant and continue growing. I like the idea that students will have a physical reminder of their own power to generate food they can eat – nourishing themselves, one handful of seed at a time.



Fast Food

“I normally wouldn’t eat this, but since we grew it, I want to try it!”

When these words tumbled out of a seventh grader’s mouth, I nearly fell over- it’s not everyday that students line up to eat radishes (even though I wish that was not the case). I learned a wonderful lesson today. Students who are engaged in the growing of vegetables are ten million times more likely to consume them. My hypothetical statistic may seem inflated, but accurate after the enthusiasm I experienced in class today. After planting and harvesting the fruits of their labor, Mr. Rausch’s seventh grade science classes could not wait to sample the vegetables! DSCN0835


I was shocked by the impact that growing greens has on the palate of teenagers.  “Can I eat this?” a student asked after he pulled his radish out of the dirt. “No”, I replied, “we need to deliver those to the cafeteria so we can enjoy them on the salad bar.” I have had students ask for chocolate cake and nuggets, but never for vegetables! After the students begged, Mr. Rausch rushed our harvest to the cafeteria, where the produce could be washed and prepped for the lunch line. I have never seen the food service staff move so fast, lettuce and radishes washed in the blink of an eye! I was lucky enough to serve students what they had grown – from the ground to plate, all in under four hours. That is what I call fast food. Students loved the experience and I loved their appreciation for the bounty of nature. In total, we harvested two pounds of lettuce and three pounds of radishes. The quantity seems small. Numbers, however, cannot fully measure the effect on students -the looks on their faces says it all.  DSCN0818 DSCN0850 DSCN0851 DSCN0839 DSCN0823DSCN0841 DSCN0870 DSCN0867


My Plate

The past few weeks, call it the “new years craze”, I have been monitoring my own eating habits. Teaching the government’s MyPlate to Oelwein elementary students made me question my less than desirable eating routine. MyPlate explains food groups, stressing the importance of balanced meals and correct portion sizes. Portion sizes never had a part in my life before I joined FoodCorps, much like NASCAR or astrology (nice for other interested people but low on my list of priorities). I justified my indulgent meals because they were “healthy”, chock full of plants. Too much food, healthy or not, is not nutritious. For my health and credibility, I have to change. Oelwein PABS Jan2


What have I been doing to eat a more balanced diet? Firstly, I try to drink more water. I would like to point out that water is not present on “MyPlate”. Students have pointed out this discrepancy – “Ms. Ashley, what about water?” People are noticing – First Lady Michelle Obama is promoting water with her national Drink Up Campaign. Thank Goodness.


Next, I try to eat more at breakfast and lunch instead of a huge evening meal. A small dinner is hardly an American tradition, but I am trying. Also, I have found a large, delicious breakfast works to lure one out of bed most mornings (even in below zero temperatures). Oelwein PABS Jan


Lastly, I am blessed with many accountability partners. My roommate, Ashley Dress, is an amazing cook who enjoys using whole, plant based foods in our meals. She usually cooks huge amounts on weekends that can be packed for quick, delicious lunches during the week. My coworkers at Food & Fitness created a “Fitness Challenge” that involves making weekly changes, such as limiting sugar sweetened beverages, to create better lifestyle habits.


You know what? Following a balanced plant based diet these past few weeks has been wonderful. I feel better and my pants fit nicely. Others have noticed the change too. A teacher in Oelwein pulled me aside to ask what I have been doing. I simply told her, “It’s a struggle, but I am trying to practice what I preach”. Her eyes lit up with surprise at my honesty. The next time I was in her classroom, she tried the snack for the first time this year. A small victory, but one I celebrate. She loved the orange Julius smoothie and students in Oelwein did too! Oelwein PABS Jan3


Want the recipe? You will need: four oranges, two cups of ice, a third cup of milk, two tablespoons of honey, and a teaspoon of vanilla. Blend and enjoy! The smoothie will not make your pants fit well, but it can be a first step towards a more balanced diet.

It Ain’t Easy Being Green

I grew up in the snowy flatlands of northern Illinois. That fact, I presumed, prepared me for winter living in Northeast Iowa (a silly thought). Given the temperamental weather, working in schools can be frustrating. Between the closings, late starts, and early outs, there is little time to interact with students. Despite the setbacks, there are successes to be celebrated. Lettuce and radishes are sprouting in Allamakee! Today I learned why – there are dedicated staff members committed to the success of the project.IMG_0313



Doing a taste test at the high school today, I ran into the Ms. O’Connor (the high school Ag teacher), she waters the greenhouse and kindly added fertilizer to our soil.


Shortly after, I saw Mr. Rausch and asked if his seventh graders would weed the greenhouse. “Surely,” he replied, “give me a week’s notice and we’ll help you with anything you need.”


Later I ran into custodian Jim Needham, thanking him for keeping the sidewalk to the greenhouse clear of snow. “No problem, I figured you and the kids would need to get into the space.”


Before leaving, Food Service Director Julie Magner and myself weeded and watered the greenhouse together. An avid gardener, she was excited to see the space come alive! I am so thankful for these key players’ help and knowledge. Without all of them I would have little more than a dirt patch with weeds, no green to be seen.



Celebrate National Milk Day the Local Way

All across the nation on January 11th, milk lovers unite to celebrate National Milk Day. Humans have been drinking milk since about 4,000 BC, so it’s about time the drink was given its due. Celebrate locally with WW Homestead Dairy in Waukon, a business committed to serving great products while giving back to the community (their chocolate milk helped fuel the Waukon Indians to the state football finals)!  I was delighted to find out that WW Homestead Dairy offers tours of their processing plant and farms (giving school groups a discounted price). Students witness the making of cheese curds, butter, ice cream, or bottling milk. Farm tours allow students to see how cows live, feed baby calves, and show them how to milk a cow. They save the best for last, gifting groups with cheese curds or ice cream at the end of a tour.

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There will be free milk and cookies in the store tomorrow to celebrate the day! If you are a dairy lover, brave the cold and head to WW Homestead Dairy in Waukon, they have the “white” stuff.



What I Want in 2014

“Life moves pretty fast, if you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Thanks to Ferris Bueller, I have a quote that perfectly captures the sense of urgency I feel as 2013 draws to a close. These past few months have flown by, often leaving me surprised when another Friday appears. Each week ends and I wonder where the time went, how I could have missed a few days along the way. As a service member with FFI, there are many incredible moments I take for granted everyday, too focused on planning lessons or gathering supplies for the next day. In 2014, I hope to operate differently, savoring the time I spend with children. Witnessing students’ discovery, passion, and excitement about food has been a pleasure. Everyday brings unexpected delights and no week is the same. During a lesson in Head Start about sweet potatoes, a four year old told me, “Vitamin A is good for our eyes”. Taking the time to celebrate and document this kind of small victory is what 2014 will be about, because I don’t want to miss it.


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Seeing Green


Waking up early in the dark to warm my car before heading off to school, I often wish for warmer days ahead. Winter tends to be a difficult time for me; the grey and white landscape does little to stir the imagination (bad news for blogging). Luckily, I have a bit of green in my life in Waukon, where Allamakee CSD has a recently renovated greenhouse in the courtyard of the jr high/high school. The space is warm, inviting, and full of flowers housed by the Ag classes. With donations from The Pepperfield Project and Luther College, we plan to continue to green the space through a winter experiment growing kale, swiss chard, radishes, lettuce, and spinach. (I just became hungry after reading that list). Who provided the planting labor you ask? Mr. Rausch’s four seventh grade life science classes helped plant the seeds. Planning for the lesson was a challenge as I have little experience with middle school students, unless you count the fact that I was one years ago. I had just finished a lesson in pre-school, where song and dance is a great teaching tool. There was no song and definitely no dancing, but instead plenty of planting. A huge thanks to Mr. Rausch, whose classroom became a muddy ice skating rink. I also want to thank my seventh grade “papparazzis” who were my photographers, we would have no proof of the event without them.


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