This is the kind of food kids need, and that kids love if they get to help grow it. Image via WikipediaThere's widespread recognition that the school lunch program reflects the worst of our country's agricultural policies, which are firmly in control of Big Agribusiness and operate to the detriment of all eaters, especially the most vulnerable ones, children. Schools are used as a dumping ground for surplus goods more than as a place where children might learn healthy eating habits.
Lost in the rush to grab a tiny few stimulus dollars under an "emergency flood control" easement by locking away 200 acres of rich, prime farmland in Minto Brown Island Park is any effort to see the possibilities for addressing numerous social ills by keeping the land as agricultural land. Not least among these is the chance to convert that acreage into community gardens and even into a unique opportunity to promote better nutrition in schoolchildren by giving over as much acreage as needed to growing food for school breakfast/lunch programs year-round (especially in summer when many poor children suffer a huge drop in nutrition).
The ag land on Minto can become the centerpiece of a revitalized curriculum that teaches kids (and the adults who care for them) not only about the benefits of good food but also how to grow that food in a way that preserves and protects the environment, while building up kids' sense of themselves as people who have a purpose and who contribute to the wellbeing of their families. The loss of useful chores -- tending the kitchen gardens, caring for hens -- is one of the saddest things about childhood today, where children are trapped in an auto-dominated world that imprisons them in their cul-de-sacs with nothing useful to do. Sure, there's make work chores, but they don't build a sense of agency and responsibility the way meaningful contributions do.
UPDATE: A must-read book is available from the Salem Public Library and our local booksellers: "This Organic Life: Confessions of a Suburban Homesteader" by Joan Dye Gussow. (Chelsea Green Press). This is outstanding, wily writing, with lots of tempting recipes, leading the reader gently, painlessly, but inexorably into thinking deeply about food and where it is grown and the costs of our obliviousness to those things. Blurb by Barbara Kingsolver, whom many consider a Goddess of Food Writing:
The most important book I've read in a long while. Full of hope, kindness, and arresting wisdom, it iwill serve as a valuable guide to anyone who wants to live more thoughtfully on the only planet that feeds us.