Encouraging Passions to Foster Our Sustainable Food Future

Encouraging Passions To Foster Our Sustainable Food Future

Tue 25 Feb 2014

Story by Maria Bowman

Did your third grade teacher ever tell you that your passion for making sense of numbers could help to strengthen the sustainable food community?

Probably not. We as educators, parents, mentors and community members kindle the interests of our children, students and neighbor kids into careers and passions on a daily basis.

So I wonder, are we missing critical opportunities to foster kids to use their skills and interests to contribute toward healthy communities, particularly in the realm of sustainable food?

We sway children toward becoming nurses when we compliment how well they care for their siblings. Our praise for a childs ability to argue her/his point of view may inspire a path toward becoming a lawyer. This guidance is golden, as these words can change lives. Mentors help us to identify and utilize our strengths. This guidance also serves to introduce students to the realm of possibility for them within the wide and wonderful world. With this concept in mind, are we also presenting our children with examples of jobs, organizations, businesses and community projects that use their interests to ignite positive change when it comes to the food they and their peers eat on a daily basis?

A few months ago I sat down with a group of teenagers to talk to them about our work at Edible Schoolyard Pittsburgh and about food education in general. We discussed how our program aims to empower students to grow, cook and think critically about food. I shared how our ultimate goal is to inspire students to become active participants in their own health and the health of their communities by contributing in any way they are able. The looks on the teens faces ranged from Yes, I get it, so what? to How does this relate to me again? So I decided to shift the discussion.

I asked them to write down their greatest skill or strength. Students went around and shared their answers, I think Im a great artist! I can code. Im proud that I speak Spanish.

The next question I asked them was to think of ways their skills could contribute toward positive change for farmers, eaters or sustainable food production in their community or worldwide. Everyone was silent for a minute, one teen even said, I have no idea. No one has ever asked me that before.

But they started writing. Then, the students shared again. Id design banners and murals and commercials to make real food look more popular. I could create websites mapping where to find healthy food in different neighborhoods. I can translate gardening books for people who only speak Spanish.

And what if we took this idea a step further? The Environmental Charter School, an elementary school located just down the road here in Pittsburgh, recently took students on a field trip to a local restaurant in their Food Writing Exploratory class. Under the guidance of two local food journalists, the students were tasked with writing reviews of their delicious, sustainably sourced taco lunch after chatting with the chef. The students were exposed to real people from their community who are contributing their skills to a vibrant and sustainable food world. Together, students, teachers, journalists and the chef, were able to eat, practice critical thinking skills and nurture talent all while enjoying a healthy meal and participating in the thriving food community of our great city.

We as teachers, parents, neighbors and friends of children are capable of powerful persuasion, whether we realize it or not. Kids look to us to model appropriate behavior, to recognize budding talent and to open doors to opportunities never before considered. So, lets step up!

If we as food justice advocates desire a world where eating well is no longer a privilege, where fresh food is served in cafeterias and where organic is ubiquitous then we need to inspire our future leaders of business, health, science, sports, entertainment, technology, communications, art, education and math to use their skills to meet these ends.

For me, helping students to connect the dots between their own lives and the ability to create a brighter food world took more than a couple of creative tries. I encourage you to use your powerful influence to encourage, uplift and foster the passions of the youth in your life so that they, too, might contribute their skills toward better food and more just food access-- for the generations to come.

About the Author: Maria Bowman is the Edible Schoolyard Pittsburgh Program Manager with Grow Pittsburgh. She is a licensed elementary educator also certified in Justice, Peace and Conflict Studies. Through her experiences in the classroom, around the dinner table in many cultures and within her own community, Maria has developed a passion for the connections between food, culture, education and social justice.


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