Thursday, January 27, 2011

Why Chef in the Classroom is as Important as Changing Lunch
If you have a chance to watch this video, please keep in mind that a lot of kids in this class were very reluctant to cook from scratch using fresh vegetables when we met them.  Our food was "nasty."  That changed as we got to know them and they learned that fresh food almost always tastes better.  We can make a difference in the lives of older students by helping them to learn to cook, expose them to new kinds of foods, understand where food comes from, and to think critically about their diets.  The two students in the above photo volunteered to cook breakfast for 400 people with us at the Dane County Farmer's Market.  They met a lot of farmers and cooked a lot of good food.  They inspired me to renew my interest in using classrooms for Farm to School work.  It's not going to work if we just change the lunch! 

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Farm to School, Food Sovereignty and Social Justice

I have a lot of encounters with really friendly, well-meaning folks who tend to jump to conclusions about what I’m doing when I say that I work in Farm to School.  So, for the interested (and hopefully well-meaning) reader, before I outline what farm to school is, here are a few things that Farm to School is not.  Not necessarily.    
Farm to school is not organic food.  We are not a bunch of unrealistic, spaced out middle class idealists who believe all school food has to be organic.  Organic food is awesome and I purchase it whenever I can but we aim for a wide variety of farms and farming techniques.  
Farm to school is not community or school gardens or urban farms.  Farmers feed their children and purchase their new sofa sets with money from agricultural endeavors.  From my perspective, school gardens, community gardens and urban farms are incredible opportunities to increase food security in urban areas.  They are amazing  They are a critical component of a competent culture with diverse food sources, heirloom seeds, access to the visual aspects of animal care and husbandry, etc.  They do not protect our local farmers from the devastating results of globalization and megafarming.  Let me be clear.  I am not knocking organic food (which I eat) or gardens (which I love).  They augment and are related to the task at hand but are not the heart of my movement.  

Then what, pray tell, is Farm to School? Simply put, Farm to School is a movement that seeks to bring farm fresh, locally produced food onto the plates of school children.  This movement aims for the effect of saving farms and improving the nutrition of schoolchildren in one sweet, beautiful local supply chain.  The terms that most aptly apply here are food sovereignty and social justice (   
Keep our Farms. Farms, for my purposes, are worker- or family-owned, for-profit enterprises of small to mid-size that practice sustainable farming and are committed to agriculture as a career.  These are the farms that we have lost the vast majority of in WI in the last 50 years.  We are desperate to find systems that will support them.  
Save our Kids.  Farm to School is also a way for our current generation of sedentary, overweight students to develop tastes for fresh produce and a critical eye for food origins.  Using the public schools to increase the taste for and consumption of fresh produce is possibly the most genius way ensure that students that come from families with few resources and live in urban deserts with little or no access to fresh, unprocessed foods get them.  We turned a corner in our history when we decided that all children should have an equal chance to be educated.  It is just as critical of an issue now that we ensure that those kids have access to decent food.  The research is there, folks.  Nutrition=academic performance.  Time to level the playing field in the lunchroom.
So forgive me if I seem a little antsy sometimes when someone implies that I must only care about organic food.  The farmers I work with wear worn work boots from Farm & Fleet and the kids I help feed are often bouncing from foster home to foster home.  We are part of struggle.  This is a fight to keep our agricultural rights and to protect our kids.