We wound down a productive summer in the school garden a few weeks back with a Harvest Potluck and celebration that included fun activities like making the scarecrow above, potato and apple prints, mulching the trees and a scavenger hunt. We’d hoped to eat outside beside our still growing vegetable patch, but threat of rain had us setting up in the school gym at tables we’d dressed with kraft paper and white tablecloths, gourds and crayons.
To add to the incredible spread of goodies provided by families (plus corn and cider purchased by the school), our outstanding French/library teacher and garden advocate worked with kids in class to make roasted carrots, kale salad, beet hummus and “smashed” potatoes using garden veggies (with a little help from the farmers’ market!). We’d planned for about 100 people to turn out, and were shocked and thrilled when some 400 people from our school community filled the gym and hallways. There was some minor panic about long lines for the food and not enough seating but nothing a few hastily erected tables and a tray of warm cider and beet hummus offered to those in line didn’t resolve.
The highlight of the evening for me was when the kids brought down the house with a song about the garden they’d been practising all week long with that same French teacher. Let’s just say I wasn’t the only adult in the crowd dabbing at my eyes. The song and the entire evening showed all of us how the garden has become such an essential part of our school community—a place the kids take pride in tending, a place for both learning and celebrating, a place not just for food but for connecting with others.
(Photos by Andrea Curtis)
Our veggie garden at home has been a disappointment this year. Combine a heat wave with vacation, sparse planting and greater attention to keeping cats away than planning, and we’ve got a sorry state of affairs out there. Luckily, the school garden has fared much better.
We focused on veggies that reflect the diversity of our school community this year and we’ve had a bumper crop of kolhrabi,
and, of course, the usual beans,and tomatoes.
Lots and lots of tomatoes.
The children at the school also asked for more flowers in their patch. We had to oblige, of course. With sunflowers,
and some brilliantly coloured nasturiums.
I can’t wait until we tell the kids that those flowers they wanted are also delicious in a salad!
All photos by Andrea Curtis
Some great What’s for Lunch? news arrived on my doorstep when I returned from holiday this week. What’s for Lunch? is available in South Korea!
Like so many children around the world, kids in South Korea have a daily hot meal at school. Lunch is served in a metal tray with multiple compartments and always includes rice and kimchi (pickled vegetables). There’s also a protein (chicken, fish, egg, tofu, but often it’s octopus or squid!), usually served stewed or boiled, plus more veggie sides such as eggplant, radish, bean sprouts or lotus root. Soup is also offered some days.
There are some great photos of South Korean school lunches on this teacher’s Tumblr blog.
To give a sense of just how important the issue is in South Korea, a couple of years ago, the city of Seoul held a very contentious referendum about school lunch. Some members of municipal government had the foresight to push for healthy, free school meals for all of the 800,000-plus primary and middle school kids in the city’s public schools. Of course, such a proposal is costly ($380 million a year, according to this piece in Time) and the program faced opposition from Conservative members of council, including the mayor. (There was even a brawl in council chambers over the issue!)
As I’ve argued many times before, of course, I think the economic and social benefits of school lunch are vast and far-reaching in better health and school performance, among other things. Seems citizens of Seoul agreed (though voter turnout was low) and the universal free school lunch program was passed. The mayor resigned in frustration.
I hope kids and teachers in South Korea feel as strongly as some of their policy makers and I do about the positive impact of school lunch (no brawling, please!). And I look forward to hearing what they think about the lovely hardcover, brand-spanking new Korean version of my book!
Give peas a chance
The school garden is planted, and the year nearly done. In our third year of growing an edible veggie patch, we’re really seeing pickup on the part of the kids, parents and teachers in our community. It’s not that they didn’t respond before, but there’s something different about it this year, a feeling that the garden is part of the social, emotional and academic environment—not just the physical one. There are many kids who’ve never known the school without a garden. They feel tremendous ownership of it, reminding each other to be careful, where the peas, basil or radishes are planted, and they come out for our weekly tending and watering “party.”
There are lots of reasons for this change—the main one being the awesome teachers at the school who embed it into their work in the classroom—but one of the things that has also helped is that there are now colourful signs made by the children explaining what’s happening in the patch.
Last year, with the support of teachers and a local artist, they created collage images illustrating garden-specific concepts like A Plant’s Life, Beneficial Insects, Compost and the Three Sisters (corn, beans, squash) Plot we’ve planted. They also researched and wrote up text to accompany their images. With foundation funding, we had weather resistant signs made. Now kids can go with their teachers and discuss the material as part of an outdoor class, or just read the beautiful posters with their parents or friends.
The signs serve to beautify the playground, mark the garden as a place of kid-centred and kid-led learning and emphasize food literacy in the school.
The sign idea was inspired by a school in Oakland California that I posted about a few years ago here. I’d love to hear what you are doing in your school garden to emphasize food literacy or just make it a more fun and inviting place. Comment here and I’ll post about some of the ideas soon.
A chilly view from the High Line
I spent this past weekend on a mini vacation in New York City walking and exploring and eating, as well as talking about food with school lunch and food justice (super)hero, Jan Poppendieck, who wrote the brilliant Sweet Charity? about the failures of food banking, and the more recent (and equally brilliant) Free for All: Fixing School Food in America.
The weekend was a literal smorgasbord of fun, food and inspiration. One of the surprise highlights was stumbling on the new food exhibit at the Museum of Natural History. Called Our Global Kitchen, it uses multimedia, display, historical objects, diaroma and even taste tests to bring to life the complexity of our food system, the future of food (think seaweed, bugs and less meat) and the joys of eating together. There’s a chance to sit at a table with a Roman aristocrat, see an ancient Aztec marketplace and cook up various recipes on an interactive table/screen.
Curated by the Center for Biodiversity Conservation, the exhibit pulls no punches about the challenges of feeding a projected 9 billion people by 2050 or the profound problems with current industrial agricultural practices.
Considering the equivocating I seem to read in the media about this (as if it’s still sane to question climate change or the failures of the so-called green revolution to feed the world), I was delighted to see how matter of fact the exhibit is. This is science, baby.
I can’t wait to read my friend Sarah Elton’s upcoming book, Consumed: Sustainable Food for a Finite Planet for more on this subject.
(For teachers and educators who can’t make it to New York before the show closes in August, there are downloadable teaching resources for all grades that touch on issues in the food system like biodiversity, the supply chain and trade, hunger and diet-related health issues. The resources are pegged to the exhibit itself but there are lots of ideas about how to bring these topics into the classroom.)
I’ve been making school lunch for my boys for nearly a decade. I don’t like it much and have come up with many (thwarted) plans to get out of the business. They invariably involve having my children make their own meal. But that ideal bumps up against the time-strapped, space-strapped, coffee-deprived reality that is our weekday mornings. Frankly, at this moment in our busy lives, I’d rather make their lunch than create another make-work project for myself. We manage pretty well, all things considered (they eat most of the healthy food we offer in their bags and don’t complain—much).
I am learning to accept the fact that I will likely have children who expect their lunches made for them well into their college years and hope that the other opportunities we’ve created for independence, food appreciation and planning will compensate for this failure.
Despite having acknowledged this many times, despite the fact that What’s for Lunch? is a book about the politics of food rather than a how-to for busy, frustrated parents who must pack a meal for their darlings every day, I have been asked frequently since WFL was published about the secret to making a great lunch. I invariably say I don’t have the answers (see above).
But as I’ve reflected on my personal experience and all the amazing school lunches I learned about in my research, I have started to think I do have a few thoughts on the matter. Let’s call them observations rather than advice. Continue reading
The school garden has been put to bed for the winter, and I find myself reflecting on the season past and beginning to think ahead to what we might do differently next year.
Sadly, here in Ontario, where the government has decided to unilaterally end bargaining with the teachers’ unions, and the teachers have responded by withdrawing their involvement in extracurricular activities (one of the only tools they have left to make their displeasure clear), there could very well not be a garden next year.
We’ve worked hard to embed it into the school’s life—supporting teachers to use the garden as a teaching tool, buying curriculum resources, etc. And it’s worked remarkably well. We have a committed and enthusiastic staff team devoted to using it for teaching purposes. In just the past few weeks, the teachers have been using the harvest in their classes, baking kale chips and making a veggie soup that had children literally pushing to the front of the line to get seconds.
But maintaining the patch is the collaborative work of parents, students and teachers, and such collaboration isn’t possible right now. We’re doing what we can while respecting the teacher’s right to withdraw their voluntary labour, but it might very well not be enough. A lot of work has to go into planning and fundraising—not to mention planting and tending—to make the garden thrive, and without parents, kids and teachers working together the whole thing could easily not happen.
It’s devastating to think that all the work we’ve put into this garden, all the momentum we’ve built over the past two years could actually grind to a halt.
I think making food literacy a part of our schools and education system is a key part of how we’re going to reverse the damage of our current food system—the diet-related health issues, the environmental degradation, the fear about food safety and unfair labour practises. Teachers are our most important resource when it comes to making food literacy a part of our children’s school life. We need to urge our provincial government to treat them with the respect they deserve and get back to negotiating in good faith.