Teaching Kids to Connect with the Environmnet Through Food

food&natureToday is Monday, September 23, 2013.

Writing for ecoliteracy.org, Alice Waters says that teaching kids about where their food comes from is the single most way to raise environmental awareness.  Waters is the owner of Chez Panisse Restaurant in California, known for using only locally grown, organic food, and for originating the “California cuisine” style of cooking.  Waters is also the founder of The Edible Schoolyard, a one-acre garden located on the campus of a middle school in Berkeley, California, established through a foundation associated with her restaurant.

Eating is a universal activity, something that we all do.  According to Waters, eating is where we intersect with the environment the most closely.  We literally ingest the environment, take it into our bodies.  If we think of eating in this way, we can no longer afford to think of the environment as something outside of ourselves.  If we care about what goes into our bodies, then we have to care about our environment.

Fresh vegetables and fruitIn her words, “What could be a more delicious revolution than to start committing our best resources to teaching this to children — by feeding them and giving them pleasure; by teaching them how to grow food responsibly; and by teaching them how to cook it and eat it, together, around the table? When you start to open up a child’s senses — when you invite children to engage, physically, with gardening and food — there is a set of values that is instilled effortlessly, that just washes over them, as part of the process of offering good food to one another.”

Naturally, when you start caring about your food, you also start caring about the fertilizers and pesticides used on it.  You start to care about whether the seeds have been genetically modified or not. We could actually start raising a generation of kids who are fully informed about these issues and able to make responsible decisions with respect to these issues.

I agree with Waters, and I can see that this would work great in California, where the growing season is literally year-round.  But what about those of us who live in places where winter brings an end to the outdoor growing season, where the harvest is done or being finished just as the school year is beginning?

In order for this sort of thing to take hold in the upper Midwest, for example, schools would have to dedicate a portion of each building to a greenhouse area, which would have to be temperature controlled and as open to sunlight as possible, meaning that there would have to be skylights and someone would have to go up on the roof to clean the snow off.  Could it be done?  Oh, sure, as long as the residents of the school district are OK with increasing taxes to pay for the modifications to the local school building.  In the larger cities, perhaps one of the district buildings could be retro-fitted as a greenhouse, and it could be a central place where students could be taken on “field trips” to work in the garden.  Of course, knowledgeable staff would have to be hired not only to tend the gardens, but to work with classes and teach the students not only gardening skills, but also basic nutrition classes.

Perhaps Waters’ own model could be followed.  Are there other companies that have the resources to create a foundation that would be responsible for financially supporting gardens in schools?  A lot of companies are looking for ways to connect with public schools in a meaningful way.  (Just don’t ask Monsanto for any help!)

This is one of those ideas that people will have to get used to thinking about, and it will take some activism to get it included in the standard curriculum.  I believe it would be totally worth the effort. 🙂

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