Millions of people across the state bite down, eliciting a satisfying crunch. A subtle sweetness tumbles onto their palate, and they feel the joy that comes with eating a fresh, homegrown vegetable.
This is Ted Hirsch’s dream. It’s called Carrot Day, and it’s an initiative to get people all over the state to grow carrots this spring and harvest them in the fall, after the first frost. The cold weather prompts the vegetables to convert starches to sugars, making them sweeter and crisper than your average carrots.
“My goal is that as many people as possible plant carrots and eat them and take pictures,” Hirsch said. “I think of it as an entry point. First you’re eating carrots, then broccoli, then arugula flowers. Then you’re trying things you’ve never tried before.”
According to Hirsch, a Somerville resident and educator, the point of the project is to promote locally sourced food and teach people to experience food in a new way. He is partnering with Holly Hill Farm, a nonprofit in Cohasset, and CitySprouts, a garden-based education organization in Cambridge.
Why not Eggplant Day or Pumpkin Day or Spinach Day? Organizers picked carrots because many children are not averse to eating them (rather than a green and bitter vegetable). Also, they can be both planted and harvested while school is in session: None of the thrilling parts are missed during summer vacation, Hirsch said. Plus, it’s a whole lot of fun to pull up a carrot from the dirt, he added.
He hopes to collect photos and data about where people are growing carrots in order to create a map highlighting the span of the project.
Carrot Day sounds adorable, but it’s purpose is rooted in a serious problem, Hirsch said — the disconnect between consumers and the food production system.
“I’m worried about the environment, about human longevity,” Hirsch said. “I think if we can get people interested in growing and eating their own food and involved in the simple, direct things, we can make a huge difference.”
Jennifer Hashley agreed. As director of Tufts University’s New Entry Sustainable Farming Project, she finds it problematic that Americans are so removed from their food production, despite the fact that the companies they come from play a large role in everyday life.
She believes garden-based school curriculum should be mandatory for everyone.
“The food system is one of the largest employers, but the production aspect of it is underrepresented by the numbers,” Hashley said. “Less than 1.5 percent of the population is involved in production agriculture. In other countries, maybe emerging economies, 40 to 60 percent of the population is involved in production.”
Hirsch is bringing his pro-carrot campaign to the masses, but he first encountered it as a tradition at South Shore Charter Public School, where he worked for 22 years as both a teacher and a principal. Each year, come springtime, the students planted the tiny beige seeds. After the first frost in the fall, the children poured out into the garden to harvest and clean the vegetables.
Finally, in a moment of sweet gratification, the students congregated at an assembly and simultaneously bit into their carrots.
“They’re all taking a bite of carrot, and they’re realizing their peers helped grow that. I think they look at a carrot a little differently after that,” said June Fontaine, a first grade teacher at the school. “Kids are all different, so it’s cool that the carrots are all different looking.”
The impact of a good carrot should not be underestimated. Molly Weber, a 23-year-old University of Vermont graduate, participated in classroom gardening with Hirsch when she was in kindergarten. Today, she still makes sure to shop at the food co-op or farmers market, instead of the grocery store.
How does she describe the taste of a frost-kissed, homegrown carrot?
“Like earth,” she said. “It has dirt on it, in a good way. There’s more character to it.”Ysabelle Kempe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.