Elementary School children gather around a table in their Food Education class. The teacher brings out a pomegranate, which she cuts in half and opens to the waiting eyes of the children, one of whom lets out a delighted “ooooooh. It looks like jewels!!”
Kwan, age 10, picks up a shovel as community members gather to build a raised bed for growing vegetables in a vacant lot. Eight hours later, dirty, sweaty and tired, he looks up at an adult and, smiling from ear to ear, declares: “I love to work.”
Tyree, age 11, picks off a sprig of cilantro from his schoolyard garden to bring inside for making salsa. His teacher tells him to squeeze it and then smell it. He does and as the fresh herb passes under his nose, he makes a sound of pleasure, mock faints to the ground, and croons “oooh, I’m in love.”
These are real children. Here’s a harsh statistic about their possible future: The Centers for Disease Control predicts that for children born in the year 2000, one in three risks developing diet-related diabetes; one in every two—or 50% of—African-American and Latino children risk getting that debilitating disease.
Here’s a different vision of what might be—and what already is taking place in some City Schools.
Your child goes to a school with lots of asphalt. The asphalt comes up. The ground is tilled, the soil improved. Parents, students, volunteers and youth leaders build garden beds. Youth who have learned vegetable gardening and fruit tree care—as interns or students at the City Schools’ Great Kids Farm or through the new Americorps “FoodCorps” program—are placed with schools throughout the city. Schools with greater capacity sign on first. Then capacity grows. More schools join. Eventually there are gardens in every school, because in every garden there is a school—where deep and dynamic teaching can happen in nearly every subject—science, nutrition, social studies, math, art, and more.
The bounty of the garden—and the additional bounty of urban and area farms—is brought indoors where students learn to cook delicious and healthy meals. Students and mentors create community dinners, where on a Friday evening at the end of a long work week, families and friends sit down to a wonderful meal prepared by the children and youth and are invited to participate in the age-old human practice of forming community through the sharing of food and conversation around a table.
Our children—and we—are brought back to wellness through shared work, engaged learning and the pleasure of our senses.