There are some stark realities affecting our nation today: childhood obesity rates are the highest they have ever been in our country’s history; most families are primarily exposed to processed and pre-packaged foods, with little knowledge about where those foods actually came from; the mass production of food in our country is hurting the environment; and food education programs exist in only a small fraction of schools across the nation.
As our population – and their waistlines – continues to grow, food education and sustainability issues are increasingly important topics to be teaching our youth. Fortunately, there are schools across the country recognizing this need and taking on the challenge of revolutionizing food education! Many of the food education programs popping up around the country are using off-campus trips and cooking classes to target high school students; but some schools are designing their programs based on the philosophy that nutrition, environmental responsibility, and sustainability values can be instilled in even our youngest citizens.
This is the case at a preschool in San Francisco, where in the heart of a downtown concrete jungle exists a small oasis of organic produce and friendly animals, all cared for by the teachers and students. Preschool children take on responsibilities such as churning the compost pile, watering the gardens, releasing worms into the soil, classifying plants and insects, identifying and pulling weeds, and feeding the resident chickens and sheep. They also get to reap the rewards of their work by enjoying snacks right from the farm – handpicked and freshly squeezed lemonade, scrambled eggs, and popcorn have all been on the menu.
Over the course of the year, these youngsters have learned many important lessons about how food makes it from their hobby farm to their mouths. They’ve learned how to patiently wait for fruits to ripen, how to use friendly insects to keep their gardens healthy, the importance of using compost as a fertilizer, how to care for animals, and how to identify and enjoy wholesome, non-processed foods. Food education programs that teach such powerful fundamentals of sustainability and healthy eating are helping to inspire responsible habits in tomorrow’s citizens – I think we can all eat and drink to that.