The Grass is Greener . . . When It’s Not Grass (and it’s Edible)
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The Grass is Greener . . . When It’s Not Grass (and it’s Edible)

The Grass is Greener . . . When It’s Not Grass (and it’s Edible)

Alice Waters, food guru for many, recently wrote an op-ed piece for the NYTimes decrying the embarrassing conditions of lunches in our public schools.  Like Michael Pollan, she raises fundamental questions regarding our approach to agriculture, eating, and promoting health here in the United States.

While her questions rest more squarely on the responsibilities of schools and government than Pollan, her championing for substantive improvement, reinforced by strategies for doing so, provide a welcome avenue for achieving a couple of the broad aims of Pollan’s In Defense of Food.

Waters sees local gardens and farms as opportunities for meeting a number of needs.  It could providing local farmers with a local outlet that might help stimulate the local economy, keeping money in the area while also cutting back on transportation costs, reducing energy consumption, and easing global pollution and international relations. Heck, while I’m at it, I might as well suggest that growing and selling a green pepper locally will keep our sun from going super nova.

But let’s be practical — she suggests that meals will run upwards of $5 a piece, if done right.  That’s quite a jump in cost.  I’m not sure about the rest of you, but I’m not seeing too many school systems flush with that sort of cash these days, even with President Obama’s generous education stimulus package. Plus, schools systems would need employees whose responsibility it is to manage the contracts and monitor the quality of the produce coming in (that costs even more money).  Additionally, the cooks would need the skills (training) to adjust to the range of foods stocking their walk-ins (money, money, money).

We’ve gotta figure out how to do more with less.

I support Alice Waters’ advocacy and blue sky daydreaming today, but think her work yesterday provides a more viable (read that as “cheaper”) option for getting good food to our kids while they’re at school.  The title of my undergrad Honors thesis in back in 1997 was “Gardening With Children for a Sustainable Future.” Part of that paper drew inspiration from her work on The Edible Schoolyard.  I believed then, as I believe now, that gardening for gardening sake has no place in our curriculum.  However, a gardening program integrated through themes, concepts, skills, and projects, enhances the learning environment and provides more students with access to knowledge, learning, and purpose for being in and staying in school. When educators utilize the garden as an extension of the classroom it becomes a portal into real experiences with history, earth sciences, and business (we sell basil from our school gardens to a local grocer).

As a society, we would do well to view Victory Gardens as templates for turning today’s economic pile of crap into valuable compost. Families have started to look suspiciously at their thirsty lawns that put nothing on the table and are envisioning turf that grows greens for the table and leaves green in the pocketbook.

This trend is to be celebrated and even lead on our nation’s campuses.  What better message to send to kids and families than to say:

  • We care so much about your physical health, we’re going to teach you to grow food that is good for you.
  • We care so much about your fiscal health, we’re going to teach you to grow food that is easy on your wallet.
  • We care so much about our planet’s health, we’re going to show you how natural systems interact.

I know, I know.  Be practical, Jason. Providing quantifiable assessment data in nontraditional learning situations takes more work, more money, and more time.  Plus, everyone wants evidence of student achievement, of mastery of the 3 R’s, and of data that can be distilled and graphed.

And weeding and ho-ing and digging won’t do that, even if it can put dinner on the plate and save the world.

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