Edible Wall

September 19, 2012 at 2:23 am Leave a comment

I recently spent some time working on my family’s genealogy on Ancestry.com.  I absolutely love looking at the early census records – particularly the ones from the turn of the century and even earlier. In addition to showing who the household members were and where they were born, it tells you what they did.  My Sicilian branch quickly showed me that my road to food was paved many years ago… Many farmers back in those days, as well as, small local grocers!  It is amazing how things come full circle and naturally want to go back to square one. 

I love the renewed focus on backyard gardens and putting families back together in the kitchen for meals.  I applaud HBO’s Documentary The Weight of the Nation for helping us understand just where we are and why we need to rethink what we are doing with food.   This is a tall order for our very on-the-go society, but it’s doable.  As a mom of 10 year old twins, I am a big believer that you are what you practice. When you practice healthier lifestyles that include a focus on healthier food choices such as growing some of your own food, cooking together and meal time as a function of family connection, you give all who participate an opportunity to learn some amazing life skills.

Through food you can model team work, communication, community, healthy living and self esteem.  Just by being physically present and engaged you even can turn the volume up on what is working for your kids and help them become observers of themselves to see and understand some possible practices that could get in their way.   Can you really get all of this from a couple of tomatoes, plants and some kid friendly recipes? YES – and a whole lot more!

Given my quest to keep this conversation going in my house, the business I am in and the fact that my husband has a degree in education with a focus on social studies, you can imagine that I was very excited when he showed me the YouTube video of Stephen Ritz, a teacher “growing green” in the South Bronx.  Ritz shows us how schools are helping to reinforce the healthy food and lifestyle message.

This video is a must watch for two reasons:  First, the curriculum Ritz has developed around growing food is truly remarkable and the empowering effect it is having on his students and their community is incredibly uplifting. Second, his energy is infectious and will propel you to tackle any project you have been procrastinating.  I was even inspired to plant a backyard pot of pumpkins!   Ritz took the schoolyard garden to the next level.  He brought it inside the school.  His students learned, planned, designed, planted and installed their very own “edible walls” (learned about excel spreadsheets and what COGS are)!

I must insert a sidebar at this point.  If you fall in love with this idea like I did and think building your own is more than your gang can handle check out http://www.plantsonwalls.com/default.asp.    Once the “Green Bronx Machine” grew all of the food, they cooked with it, brought it to the cafeteria, sold some of it and donated some of it (teamwork, communication, community and collaboration). The students wrote about it, started a Facebook page and blogged (using a word documents, social media, PR and marketing). Check out some of the other things they accomplished by implementing this challenge/problem/project based learning:

  •  They have grown over 25,000 pounds of vegetables in the Bronx while generating extraordinary academic performance.
  • His Bronx classroom features the first indoor edible wall  in NYC DOE which routinely generates enough produce to feed 450 students healthy meals and trains the youngest nationally certified workforce in America.
  • Attendance went from 40% to 93% daily
  • Helped fund/create 2,200 youth job
  • Created a Facebook page called the Green Bronx Machine
  • Captured the US EPA Award for transforming mindsets and landscapes in NYC

It’s not just going on in New York! Plenty of this work is being done in the Chicagoland area.  Whole Foods Kids Foundation sees the importance of this movement and is really getting involved.  To date they have donated 1.7 million dollars to schoolyard gardens across the nation.  There have been over 500,000 students served by this project and more than 880 schools.

Check out this short list of other associations committed to food/nutrition education in our area:

  • Slow Food Chicago
  • Chicago Eat Local Live Healthy plan
  • Healthier US School – Farm To School National Resources (Team Nutrition)
  • Angelic Organics Learning Center
  • Dawes Edible Schoolyard / The Edible Schoolyard Project
  • Growing Home Chicago
  • Growing Power Chicago
  • Purple Asparagus
  • Seven Generations Ahead
  • FamilyFarmed.org

So here’s to a multi-layered approach to getting us all back to the table for healthy meals and slower lifestyles while learning life skills.  Where the screens are off and the mouths are busy talking, chewing and laughing.   Growing, cooking and sharing food is such a great way to come together!

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