In a world of ever-shrinking resources, our core focus is shifting to five forms of capital: human, social, financial, natural and produced. The values of education and hope lend a hand in helping to unlock a deep, ecological understanding of how to employ our capital to leverage and vitalize our environment with the energy it needs to fuel the future of our unfolding story. The behaviors of cities and businesses can fundamentally encourage support for the emergence of sustainable perspectives and actions.
What is your organization doing to integrate the genuine wealth of limited resources into the community awareness building processes? Is your organization deeply committed to inhabiting a place or just occupying and using its space? Can the people in our organizations look beyond the envelopes of the buildings they frequent everyday to see the places we derive our wealth from as limited, but at the same time, full of potential and wanting of our nurturing versus our consumptive capabilities?
In Pittsburgh, many organizations operate from an “emerging” philosophy, versus accepting a trickle-down dogma. Trickle-down theory operated via an economic model that assumed limitless resources. We know now that limitless equals falsehood and we have to change our models. Stuff runs out and cities and businesses can be voracious consumers. We need to build awareness of how to sustain the environment that, in turn, sustains us.
How does the environment sustain us? Is there truly a connection between our aliveness and what we take from the planet? How do we learn more about our natural and social interdependencies and share this awareness with others? We have all heard the expression - “get reconnected to the land” - but do we truly understand what it means? Are we supposed to grow beards and don flannel shirts? Does connecting to nature mean that we have to get our Grizzly on?
Hold up, there, Paul Bunyan - you can put your axe down and pick up a hoe! Food - growing it and eating it - is not only a great way for city dwellers to reconnect to the land, but to also become intimate with the growing process and get a look-see into how beautifully the environment sustains us. Grow Pittsburgh, an urban agriculture non-profit, has been working to funnel all five forms of capital into a systemic program that delivers urban transformation: Edible Schoolyard Pittsburgh. Food is being grown by children, served in their cafeterias and studied via systems-thinking lesson plans designed by Grow Pittsburgh.
Why are school gardens so important? A study was done that estimated about 50 cities worth of land similar in size to London were needed to sustain the population of just ONE London. Food and wood alone would drive the need for the additional land space. If Pittsburgh could start meeting some of the food needs of it’s city dwellers, it could be a start to recognizing the different environments that human survival is embedded into - social & natural being just two of them. Kids see firsthand that they are a part of a web of life. If all of our food is continually trucked in, kids may never understand the impact our population has on the land. They may never connect.
According to Alice Waters, founder of the Edible Schoolyard Project, school gardens are important because: “All academic subjects from Kindergarten through 12th grade become more richly engaging when they are integrated with immersive experiences in kitchens and gardens. As young people are empowered to understand the deep connections between food and every other aspect of life, they develop a sense of global citizenship, a respect for the land, and a determination to nourish themselves and each other. Cafeterias should become central to our students’ education - a place where they can experience and participate in the ritual of the table and exchange ideas.”
School cafeterias everywhere could serve more wholesome foods, if fresh foods were grown right on the school property. If a school yard garden isn’t possible, schools could reach out to local farmers for a whole foods connection. Cafeterias - where children are exchanging ideas and receiving the nourishment needed for using their brains - could be a tool for enrichment versus a weapon for detriment.
Grow Pittsburgh has helped establish the following Edible Schoolyard Pittsburgh Gardens:
Pittsburgh Dilworth in Highland Park
Pittsburgh Faison in Homewood
Pittsburgh Colfax in Squirrel Hill
Pittsburgh Montessori in Friendship
The Urban League Charter School in East Liberty
Frick Environmental Charter School in Regent Square
Grow Pittsburgh’s gardens are “based on the seed-to-table learning model initiated by Alice Waters in Berkeley, CA. Edible Schoolyard Pittsburgh integrates garden activities into the regular classroom curriculum to improve young students’ eating habits, invest students in their school communities, and enhance students’ academic performance.”
Mr. Rodney Taylor, the Director of Nutrition Services for Riverside Unified School District in Riverside, CA addresses what to do without an Edible Schoolyard program. He spoke at the “Farm to Community Conference” event at the Cranberry Woods Regional Learning Alliance hosted by Pittsburgh’s “Women for a Healthy Environment” organization. Mr. Taylor is a noted pioneer and expert in the Farm-to-School salad bars and his most famous program, established in 1997 is: “Farmer’s Market Salad Bar”. Hearing him speak is a real treat.
Mr. Taylor’s ingredients cook up a simple recipe for change:
1. We want kids to be healthy.
2. We all eat.
According to Mr. Taylor, embracing and promoting a Farm-to-School salad bar takes a lot of hard work, love and a culture change. He has passionately done so much of the hard work, helping to blaze the trail for other concerned school districts. Citing a study of school salad bars done at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Mr. Rodney confirms to school districts that it has been scientifically quantified that Farm-to-School salad bars not only generate money for small farmers, but can cost the same or less as conventional food. In Mr. Rodney’s original salad bar pioneering days, school lunches cost $0.71. Salad bar lunches cost $0.58.
How does a salad bar succeed?
Mr. Taylor’s tried & true strategies for a successful salad bar:
- Kids “Buy with their Eyes”, so the salad bar must be attractive.
- The placement of food has the power to change behaviors. Move the items around and pair fruits & veggies differently, the way you would rearrange a fruit bowl on your dining room table.
- Recess should always occur before lunch.
- Get rid of unhealthy ala-carte choices.
With unsustainable consumption patterns and obesity rates rising, Mr. Taylor’s powerful advice to Pittsburgh’s school districts:
“Stop serving kids the same fate!”
The City of Pittsburgh is a catalyst for change. Its organizations are leveraging the urban population to positively contribute to a paradigm shift that is making sustainable food important. The “Happiest Meal” in Pittsburgh could be the one that kids grow themselves!
For more help in leveraging your kiddos’ diets, or the planet’s longevity in sustaining us, engage any one of these local organizations: