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Urban Agriculturalist: Farm to Table Schools

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The Urban Agriculturalist is a series on the ways city and suburb dwellers use their land as a food resource.

Toronto-based Food Share is an organization that I really admire. They take a wholistic approach to improving inner-city nutrition, employing principles of locavorism, co-op structure, and progressive, action-based learning.

I was browsing their site the other day and happened upon an initiative of theirs, which focuses on incorporating food studies into the required curriculum in Toronto’s public schools. Food studies and school gardens are nothing new for private, well-funded schools and highly-publicized individual programs, but an integrated curriculum in mainstream schools is a new phenomenon and a hopeful one that is inclusive of everyone.

Food Share’s Farm to Table program offers short term lesson plans, teacher training, and consulting services to start school gardens and permanent food studies curriculum. The short term lesson plans include a full farm to table experience – working the vegetable garden, harvesting ingredients, cooking and consuming. Food Share’s lesson plans include a food source curriculum in which students take a supermarket tour, map food miles, and visit local farms. Another lesson plan focuses on indoor and outdoor composting principles. But Food Share also offers teacher support to assist with designing school gardens and creating lesson plans from them. So far,

Though it is a one-off, we should have a look at the more established, comprehensive farm to table program enacted by Alice Waters, famed chef of Chez Panisse and patron saint of the NoCal food revolution. The Edible Schoolyard belongs to Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, a public elementary school in Berkeley, CA. The comprehensive vegetable garden is an integrated part of each grade’s curriculum – from life sciences to nutrition to ecology to cooking to agricultural policy – and provides the school with fresh lunches everyday.

It seems that Farm to Table programs achieve a difficult balance between the hard and social sciences. While the curriculum incorporates environmental studies, agricultural ecology, and nutrition, the goal of such studies is to instill an understanding of food issues and to encourage thoughtful eating. Technical skills of planting, harvesting and cooking are exercises towards the larger goal of becoming a group of thoughtful eaters. This seems to work. With an understanding of where food comes from, what constitutes good food and how lifecycles work, graduates of programs like the Edible Schoolyard or Food Share inevitably enter the world as more informed, aware eaters. One 6th grader named Christopher is quoted on the Edible Schoolyard website, saying: “Yesterday we went to the garden and harvested chard, amaranth, and joi choy. Then we went into the kitchen and cooked noodles with them. It was delicious!” I’m impressed, though not really sure what joi choy is.

(Photo courtesy of Food Share)

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