CORNELIUS – Any way you slice it, pizza is popular with kids.

Thanks to the Field to Fork Program, Charlotte-Mecklenburg elementary students have been growing pizza gardens to learn about farming and healthy eating.

To enjoy the fruits of their labor, first-graders from Mary Raymond’s class at Blythe Elementary in Huntersville went on a fieldtrip May 30 to Davidson's Fuel Pizza to handcraft its own pizzas using ingredients they were growing, including spinach, tomatoes, herbs and peppers.

Fuel Pizza Area Director John Corbett led them through the mixing of sauce and topping the pizza.

The only stipulation – anything that doesn’t come from a garden other than cheese weren’t offered as toppings.

“You can’t even taste it!” exclaimed Carter May of the spinach he decided to try for the first time. “And it’s healthy for you!”

Others were surprised how well their pizzas tasted using ingredients they hadn’t tried before. Before this, Jamil Welch had refused to have anything but pepperoni. But Jamil said he would be willing to add vegetables from now on.

Field to Fork started in 2010 as a partnership with Fuel Pizza, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, LandSculptures and the Mecklenburg County Fruit and Vegetable Coalition.

The initiative’s message includes fighting childhood obesity, relieving the disconnect between children and farming, and getting students to think differently about health.

“We want to prove that pizza is not necessarily unhealthy. You can make it healthy, and it’s a great vehicle for fruits and vegetables,” Program Coordinator Tyler Wallace said. “It might not radically change the way they eat, but it increases exposure to it and may change their minds down the road.”

The program had several components, including the planting and caring for the garden as well as lessons on nutrition, plants and dough making.

Raymond, whose class participated in Field to Fork three years ago, wanted to do it again because it was such a success.

“The kids loved it and the parents loved it,” she said. “It’s a great way to bring them into the garden. It’s a way to capitalize garden skills and take care of living things.”

Raymond said it fits with the International Baccalaureate model of incorporating full mind and body in education, teaching the food pyramid and seeing the connection between farms and food.

She said oftentimes students preferred to work in the garden during recess instead of playing. Darryne Hill said her favorite part was digging in the soil. She was one of the few willing to try all of the ingredients on her pizza and said she enjoyed it.

Blythe and JV Washam were among 15 Charlotte-Mecklenburg elementary schools to participate in the program this year. Title 1 and first-time applicants get priority.

“We really encourage sustainability,” Wallace said. “We want the teacher to continue the garden. It doesn’t have to be pizza ingredients, but we hope they keep it going.”

Blythe receives national recognition: Magnet Schools of America presented Blythe Elementary School with the New and Emerging Magnet School of Merit Award of Excellence last month in Hartford, Conn. Blythe was chosen due to its commitment to diversity, academic excellence and curriculum innovation.