I think that educating our youth about food–nutrition, gardening, farming–is an important step for the future of our food system. From a young age, kids can develop a close relationship with their food and learn about what goes into making it- the planting, growing, harvesting, cooking, etc. Kids who learn about this stuff at school are more likely to make healthy choices in the rest of their life and stay involved with their food. And though consumer choices can only go so far, I think that just knowing and connecting with your food is powerful. The more people who get to know their food, especially those excited about it from a young age, the more who are likely to go and make larger, important changes in the food system.
One really cool program that brings gardening, cooking, and healthy food to the public school system is the Edible Schoolyard Project. Their website can be found here. The organization was started by Alice Waters, owner of the famous Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse and an early leader in the organic food movement. The project began with the implementation of a school garden at Martin Luther King Junior middle school in Berkeley. Slowly, the garden grew to include 100 varieties of fruits, vegetables, and herbs along with a flock of chickens and ducks and a kitchen/classroom. The garden began reaching out to the community: creating a summer program for students, hosting events, and offering tours to the public.
As is demonstrated by the Edible Schoolyard, gardening and cooking can become and intersection of many class room subjects. The students learn the math of multiplying recipes or the science of the water cycle taking place in the garden beds. The program shows the power of experiential, hands-on learning. As you can tell in this video, kids get really excited about what they’re learning and take away from the program skills in cooking, gardening and healthy eating.
But the program at this Berkeley middle school was only the first of many school gardens and kitchens to come. Now, the organization includes a network of over 2,000 school gardens as well as a few hundred kitchen classrooms. The project connects these schools with each other and offers resources, lesson plans, and training for teachers. The growth of the project and network from such a small beginning is really inspirational to me.
Across the country in New York, another inspiring program is taking place. At a high school in the Bronx, teacher Stephen Ritz started to use vertical farming (like this) in his science curriculum and got students involved in the garden. The project eventually involved into the Green Bronx Machine, a program which includes a student-run farmers’ market and a student work force which has built vertical gardens for a huge range of companies and houses. The project has achieved an impressive list of national and international awards and recognition. A very enthusiastic and energetic teacher, Ritz emphasizes “the potential to bridge gaps in culture, race, and ethnicity rooted in the universal common denominator of food.” In his TED talk, Ritz explains how the program has started his students on a path toward success, supplying them with jobs, healthy food, and a creative outlet. The school is fittingly a member of the Edible Schoolyard network.
I think it is easy to see the scope and power of these programs: they offer students a strong start of health, knowledge, and hands-on experience. They bring joy and sustenance to communities across the country. Go education! And be sure to check out the SITES page for some awesome websites I’ve recently found.