Teaching an Edible Education
In college, I took a course called Food and the Environment. In it, we watched clips from Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, and I was reminded of my own school cafeteria experiences with limp hot dogs, drab veggies, and the always-anticipated pizza day. This idea of improving the health of our children—they are our future after all—by improving the school food environment was the most straightforward, rational approach to combating the obesity statistics by which I had been overwhelmed.
After college, I found FoodCorps, a nationwide team of leaders who connect kids to real food, helping them grow up healthy. Here was a way that I could actually do something; I could make an impact on a situation that had once seemed too big to tackle. FoodCorps strives to give all children an enduring relationship with healthy food. FoodCorps Service Members accomplish this by teaching food and nutrition education, building and tending school gardens, and sourcing and promoting local food.
I moved to Yellville, AR, to develop and implement a school-based garden intervention designed to address childhood obesity and social risk behaviors. That is to say that I built a school garden to see if kids would eat more fruits and vegetables if they grew them, and if they would come to school more if they were invested in the garden.
Two hundred middle school students and I (along with school officials, community volunteers, parents, siblings, and so many others) began to change the food landscape. Each week in science class, we learned about the garden as a complex system, and how the fresh vegetables we were growing would nourish our bodies. We raised chickens, mucked the coop, and made omelets. By the end of the year, all the lettuce served to the 700 students each day in the cafeteria was planted, cared for, harvested, washed, delivered by students. We grew and ate, as a community, more than 2,000 pounds of fresh produce in 9 months. The students took it one step further. They create signage to educate their peers about the food’s source and why they were excited to eat it.
The garden became about more than simply growing food, it provided an edible education, a way to explore healthy food as a community.