It's back-to-school time for children, adolescents, and young adults in many countries all over the world. Once these students have returned to their classrooms, however, it’s unlikely that they’ll be learning about food and nutrition. According to Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, in the United States alone, elementary school students only receive an average of 3.4 hours of food education per year.
But it's more important than ever to educate and engage kids in the food system, especially as farming populations age. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that the average age of an American farmer is 57 years old, and 60 percent of farmers in the country are over the age of 55. All over the world, the farming population is diminishing, and this is a crucial moment for youth to realize the importance of farming and become involved in all aspects of the food system--from producing and processing food to becoming agronomists, scientists, chefs, and policy-makers. Jon Previant, Executive Director of The FARM Institute, said it best in an interview with Food Tank: “Kids spread the fever.”
Food Tank has compiled a list of 14 initiatives all over the world that are educating youth about agriculture, and creating a genuine interest in safe, sustainable, and healthy food.
Kids are excited to get involved in building gardens, like the one that began the Edible Schoolyard Project in Berkeley, California. Co-founded 17 years ago by Alice Waters, famous chef and Vice-President of Slow Food International, the project brings together students, teachers, parents, and community members to to grow more than 100 varieties of crops. The schoolyard now boasts a chicken coop and two rainwater cisterns.
2. Farm Africa
Farm Africa has begun a farm training program for rural Kenyan youth, growing vegetables, mushrooms, and passionfruit. Farm Africa also teaches students how to get the best price at market and encourages them to get involved in local governance.
The institute provides education about sustainable farming to children and adults. Located in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, the FARM Institute encourages experiential learning--kids learn by actively growing, preparing, and eating food on the farm.
Scheduled to open in September 2013, the Farming Kindergarten in Dong Nai, Vietnam, is designed as a prototype of tropical sustainable education spaces. It will provide food and agriculture experience and a safe outdoor playground to Vietnamese children in a suburb of Ho Chi Minh City.
Every year, the Chicago-based Green Youth Farm hires 60 high school students from ages 15 to 18 to work from mid-May to mid-October on an organic farm, managing bees, selling produce at markets, and cooking with the produce they’ve grown.
Jamie Oliver’s organization has been drawing national attention to the problem of unhealthy school meals and the lack of food-related education children receive in school. Along with improving school meals, Oliver’s program has launched a network of community kitchens that provide cooking classes, in-school cooking lessons for kids, and support to parents lobbying schools for better food.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in partnership with the International Labour Organization (ILO), has programs in Kenya, Uganda, Antigua, and Barbuda in Junior Farmer Field and Life Schools as part of their “Strategic Plan for Youth Development/Involvement in Agriculture.” FAO and ILO aim to foster market demand for sustainable food while providing youth with tools to begin growing their own sustainable food.
Mexico Child Link provides a home for a small group of abandoned children and children with learning disabilities on a working farm. The children learn skills such as intercropping, animal husbandry, and cheese-making.
In Arizona, the Natwani Coalition is working to get Native American children involved with traditional Hopi dry-farming practices, including a video-based curriculum and several school gardens. Students from the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health are also starting community gardens and school gardens on a Navajo reservation.
A website dedicated to seeds, biodiversity, and food, Seedmap.org features an interactive map that shows seed diversity, threats to the planet’s biodiversity, and solutions. After it launches in October, kids and adults can look at the site to learn about the state of agro-biodiversity all over the world. Seedmap.org is a product of USC Canada and the ETC Group.
The SSARE grants program funds high school and college students’ projects related to sustainable agriculture research. This year’s projects included “Weed Management and Nematode Communities in Organic Coffee Farms of Puerto Rico” and “Internship on Mapping Sustainable Farm Systems: An experiential introduction to sustainable agriculture.”
The Sustainable Food Center brings gardens and fresh produce to schools. The farm-to-school program began in the Austin, Texas area in 2007 and has since expanded to 22 schools throughout central Texas. Sprouting Healthy Kids serves fresh fruits and vegetables in school, teaches classroom lessons about food systems, and provides after-school gardening and cooking programs.
The Sylvia Center, based in New York, teaches children about sustainable food production. Cooking classes are hosted in New York City, and at Katchkie Farm in Columbia County, a 60-acre organic farm, students learn how to grow, harvest, and cook fresh produce.
The World Food Programme (WFP) USA is working with eBay's Giving Works project to raise money to provide healthy school meals to kids in need. When buyers make purchases through August 25th, they can also make a donation to WFP USA. EBay sellers selling school clothes, backpacks and other school supplies can donate part of their proceeds to WFP USA.