By Chef Centehua
The farm to table movement is now expanding into farm to school, and this is very timely. This push includes a collaboration with farmers, ranchers, fishermen and other USDA-valued operations. While many kids know their times tables, and know how to read and write, they do not know that milk comes from a cow rather than a box. Some kids never have had soup that was not canned. Naturally, these kids are accustomed to eating processed foods. Children are also having to fend for themselves at home since, in many households, both parents have to work to make ends meet; thus, the kids are eating microwaved dinners and snacks. The diabetes and obesity epidemic we now see amongst young children is really hitting home, so schools are taking action. Depending on the demographic, the farm to school programs vary across different communities.
However, a more holistic approach of providing a cooking class using produce from a school garden is one of many ways that educators are introducing children to their food.
This not only empowers children to learn new skills leading to a greater sense of personal esteem and self reliance, but also introduces children to the nutrient cycle,from seed to their friends’ and families’ plates.
Demystifying the process of food production hopefully encourages children (and the adults they one day will be) to look further into their consumption and the costs necessary for this type of food culture with all of the hidden and varied costs, especially during this time within the whole foods movement when buying organic doesn’t really mean you’re buying something sustainably grown. In fact, organicnowadays simply means that, instead of petroleum based fertilizers, farmers put compost onto the fields without modifications to monoculture, shipping or water consumption.
Since 1980, obesity amongst children and teens has tripled. One out of 7 low income kids are obese, and it is no wonder: cheap and fast foods are loaded with artificial sweeteners and preservatives, and truly are lacking in substantial nutrients. Parents, like children, are in need of nutrition education.
The United States has the highest rate of obesity amongst the entire industrialized world. This makes me really think about how we value progress, and it seems that in order to progress, we need to slowly regress into more of an agricultural society. We won’t get healthier until we change the way we eat.
Academic education should not focus merely on intellectual progress but also should include cultural aspects. It’s very good to see many schools incorporating farm field trips and cooking lessons. When kids can connect to their food and are involved in the process, they are more likely to eat good whole foods and make healthier choices in the future. Getting kids out to the farms that grow their vegetables can be a life changing experience. Children get excited to chop up carrots and potatoes. Cooking can be a creative, playful process; and they might just want to try to eat the food they have made with their own hands. Children respond when given choices, and offering fresh fruits and vegetables from an early age will have lasting benefits. Additionally, children are suffering from food allergies, so we are called to pay attention and shift the way we connect to our sustenance.
It seems that we are learning to connect the dots through the present health crisis. Parents and teachers are taking responsibility, and making changes in standard school lunches.
The issue seems that, as usual, financing and liability are the primary obstacles for making this a standard part of the schooling curriculum. If you would like to get involved and set up a farm field trip and/or purchase produce from a farm, here are some resources that will help you get started: