Edible Education for Everyone - by Jenn Mampara
In addition to the role I've played in developing and growing FoodPrints, I am also a parent to three boys who have truly benefited from participating. I shop with my sons at the farmers market, talk to them about the farmers who grow their food, and cook from scratch every day at home. And, while I know that these practices will contribute to their life-long understanding of food, farming and good nutrition, I'm still surprised by what an even greater impact their FoodPrints experiences at school have on shaping their preferences.
This is a photo of my youngest son on his first day of 1st Grade. The FoodPrints garden at his school is directly in front of the building. At this time of year, every parent, child and staff member walks through massive sunflowers, cherry tomatoes, eggplants, and bell peppers on their way in and out of the building. Almost all the first day pictures parents took at his school had cherry tomatoes and peppers in the background. -
Just as Back-To-School means back to reading, writing, math, art, music and PE, for my son, it also means back to FoodPrints. In the same way that he knows what his reading level is, or what the relationship is between addition and subtraction, he also knows that fall and spring are the times of the year when he will make radish seed tape and plant it in the garden at school. He knows that radish seeds germinate quickly, and that next month during FoodPrints he will harvest those radishes and eat them with bread and butter. For him, growing, harvesting, studying, cooking and eating food is part of what he expects and takes for granted at school.
In fact, I think he would be surprised to know that most children don't have these opportunities. Alice Waters refers to our work as Edible Education, and like her, I believe it is equally important as the rest of what our children learn at school. For the first time in history, children in the United States are expected to have a shorter life span than their parents. In 2012, approximately 1/3 of children and adolescents were obese. This is more than triple the rate of obesity 30 years ago. At the same time, rates of Type 2 diabetes in children have tripled as well. Type 2 diabetes is an acquired disease, caused primarily by our diets - and is now considered an emerging childhood epidemic in this country. This is something we can change, and that we need to act upon urgently!
We teach reading, writing, and math at school because we know our children need these skills to successfully navigate the world. We offer art and music education to stimulate their brains and foster appreciation for beauty. We offer physical education because we know that strong bodies contribute to their health and happiness. However, we also know that we all eat at least three times a day, and that what we eat is even more responsible for our weight and energy levels. than how much we exercise. If our children don't feel good they can't be fully present to learn. Children who come to school with a belly full of sugary cereal and a lunch full of highly processed white flour and sugar products cannot fully attend to what their classroom teachers present.
Through advertising and at the grocery store, our children are bombarded with all the wrong messages about food. The food landscape they are growing up in is outrageously complicated, confusing and tempting. Think about the boxes after boxes of packaged foods on the shelves at the store, with one brightly labeled health claim after another - "made with whole grains," "gluten-free," "energy bar". In fact, the most nutritious foods are easy to identify and prepare, and for the the most part, they don't come in fancy packaging. Nutritious foods are simple and beautiful, and even very young children can play a significant role in preparing them. In monthly FoodPrints classes, children learn how to cut an apple, how to turn apples into applesauce, how to grind flour flour from whole grains and mix it with fresh eggs and milk to create batters for baking. They learn to read and understand simple recipes, and experience the shared joy and satisfaction of working together to prepare delicious, simple food. They take recipes home to share with their families and are encouraged to go to local farmers markets to meet the people who grow our food locally and to support them.
Our children deserve and need programming like FoodPrints - Edible Education - at every school, offered to every child. Our schools need to be access points for nutrition education, and this is something we can accomplish at low cost. FoodPrints programming costs an average of $160 per child per year. This is enough to provide monthly, two-hour, "in-school field trips" in which children work in and observe the garden, harvest through the seasons, and cook and eat in the classroom. In addition, we weave in content that supports their grade level standards in science, social studies, health, math, and English language arts. Classroom teachers and parent volunteers participate in every session, working and learning along with the children. It is a win-win situation for the school, the teachers, families, and, most importantly, our children.