For one of my classes last semester we were required to do a community service-learning project and see how nutrition (teaching, implementation in school foodservice, etc.) works in the real world. I chose to work with The Agrarian Adventure because I thought that their goals and objectives were spot on with what I believed in.
The Agrarian Adventure seeks to educate kids about where their food comes from (i.e. not a shrink-wrapped or boxed package that itself comes from a box) and how their body is affected by the foods they eat. In order to reach these goals, the Agrarian Adventure has partnered up with Ann Arbor public schools (notably, Tappan Middle School) to set up an after school food and garden club, an organic schoolyard garden, and find ways to integrate ideas about food into the school curriculum.
We believe that it is best to teach the message about good, sustainable food early on to kids and not to adults. Why don’t we just sit the parents down? Well, it’d be hard to get all of them to commit to a time frame. Plus, as an adult, you’re pretty set in your ways. As a kid, even though you may not have control over everything your family buys, you may be able to persuade them to try a new vegetable or food preparation that you learned in school. In fact, at the annual Harvest Dinner that the food and garden club holds every year where the menu is designed and made with food harvested from the garden and prepared and served by the students, I had parents tell me how their kid (normally a picky eater/vegetable hater) would demand that they buy [insert random vegetable] because their kid grew it/ate it at club. How great is that? It just warms my heart to know that being active in the production of your own food can erase any (ok, most) preconceived hatred of said food.
This is true even for me. Two weeks ago we were slated to make a butternut squash, carrot, and ginger soup (both the squash and carrots were harvested from the garden in the fall and stored). That did not sound appetizing to me even though I consider myself to have a very open mind in trying foods. When the pots were on the stove and I stared into the sad murky abyss that was the soup, I wasn’t sure I could keep up my chipper face to the kids about how great the soup was going to be because, honestly, it did look kind of gross. But we ladled it out and I gingerly sipped a spoonful. It was good! That just shows you how much things can change when you get over your doubts. I ended up having 2 “bowls” (we had mugs for bowls) of the soup. It was that good.
As you could probably tell from above, my involvement was with the after school food and garden club. We would go outside when the weather was nice to harvest vegetables, do some planting, or just some garden clean up. Staying indoors meant learning kitchen skills (such as knife safety) or learning how to cook (or, rather, how to teach kids how to cook). I’ve heard past volunteers say that the hour spent at the after school club was the “fastest hour of the week” and they were definitely not joking. It was a whirr of activity from prepping for the arrival of kids to getting them settled, introducing the activities of the day and why they are important to actually carrying out the activities and cleaning up. It was so exciting to see these kids try new foods and gain a sense of pride in producing and cooking their own food. So exciting, in fact, that I’ve decided to keep volunteering this semester and, hopefully, will be able to continue volunteering.
I firmly believe in food and health education, especially taught in a way where kids have control over the activities (such as gardening and cooking). With the increasing rise in obesity throughout the United States, it is especially important that there are programs in place to teach kids about food and its effect on your body. Michelle Obama’s stance is a take in the right direction and I strongly applaud her for that. I can only hope that more programs like The Agrarian Adventure are implemented throughout the country and that we, the nation as a whole, can learn to cast off processed foods in favor of real foods like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables that actually have the capability of nourishing our bodies.