Standing in a sunny farm field Friday, Jason Leonard and Zachary Weiserth, both 9, acknowledged that they had never eaten squash, but, having just picked a boxful, they said they'd like to give the emerald veggie a try.
They liked something else as well.
"I like how we picked the plants to help other people who are in need," Jason said.
Yesterday, Jason, Zachary, and 70 other Washington Township schoolchildren did both - harvested and helped.
For about a dozen years, Duffield's Farm in Sewell and the Washington Township schools have joined to teach children about where their food comes from and the importance of helping those less fortunate.
Farm family member Tracy Duffield said in April she gave an educational program about farming and food growing for the third graders of each of the township's elementary schools. The children planted squash seeds at their school. A month later, they brought their little plants to Duffield's to be planted at the farm. And they got to eat strawberries.
July is picking time. A big truck from Farmers Against Hunger, a group that provides donated New Jersey farm produce to antihunger programs, was on standby to cart the children's squash and other crops donated by Duffield's - 4,500 pounds in all - to the Missionary Church of Christ and Mount Calvary Baptist Church, both in Camden, and the South Jersey Food Bank, said Kristina Guttadora, the organization's produce collection and distribution coordinator.
On Friday, the children's efforts received high praise from state Agriculture Secretary Douglas H. Fisher, who was on hand for the harvest in a Jersey Fresh cap.
"What you're doing today is just so fabulous," Fisher told the youngsters. "You're gaining a great understanding of what it takes to grow food and put it on the table."
Camryn Smith, 9, is an old hand at agriculture.
"My pop-pop is a farmer," she said. "I'm used to being out there a lot. I've planted cabbage."
What she thought was important about what they were doing was "that we're helping people, the people at the church, and it's very nice."
Her mother, Karen, was on board as soon as the permission slip came home.
"I thought it was fantastic," said Smith, owner of Atlantic Coast Gymnastics. "I think it's going to make the kids aware of getting back to basics."
After the picking, the children received cherry water ice as reward for their labors.
"It was fun to pick the squash," said Penelope Hicks, 8.
"It was different, kind of unique," said her father, Jude, a nurse, as he gave spoonfuls of water ice to his younger daughter, Ginger, 1. "It's good for them to do something and see the progress of it."
Mary Kate Siravo said the squash experience made a big impression on her son Anthony.
"He came home from planting here and said, 'We should start a garden,' " she said.
So they did. They have had homegrown spinach. Cucumbers are coming in. The tomatoes will be red soon, and her children eat the snow peas straight off the plant.
"It's awesome," said Anthony, 9. "We got a very bountiful harvest, and they make good dinner."
For Grace Harrington, 9, Friday's picking made her appreciate farmers even more. Squash plants, she noted, have thorny bits that prick your hands.
"I didn't know it was such hard work," she said.
Overall, though, she gave the whole thing a thumbs-up.
"It was fun, and it's helping people out," she said. "And I got water ice."