“By growing food and working with others, we act on our desire to learn, to serve and to be productive.” –Ward Cheney, Founder of The Food Project
Consider these different trends in our society today: American teens are among the most obese in the world, leading to severe health problems such as diabetes and heart disease later on in life. While this is true among upper-class teens, lower-class youth have significantly less options for fresh, healthy, local food, than their counterparts. And, the average distance our food travels to get to our plates in the US is 1300 miles. Additionally, a study published by the Journal of Nutrition Education, found that 73 percent of teenagers reported grocery shopping for their families; 83 percent said they shopped for food for themselves,(http://www.kidsource.com/kidsource/content3/ific/ific.teen.trends.html) In light of these trends, the topic of food and our youth is one we should seriously consider.
The family farm is quickly becoming a thing of the past as large industrial farms merge to monopolize our food production. Because large farms find it most efficient to produce crops in single varieties, they are forced to use large amounts of chemicals so that whole crops are not lost to pests. While there used to be hundreds of varieties of tomatoes, today we have lost roughly 96% of them and most come to our plates from only a few states. While youth (and the rest of us included) were once more connected to the land, today they have practically no idea where their food comes from, how it gets to their plates, and at what costs to their bodies, the environment, small communities and farmers. Not only that, but they have lost a taste for fresh, local food as fast food and snack food companies work with the media and even schools to promote their junk food (this is especially noticeable with the prevalence of vending machines).
However, there are exciting movements afoot, some teen led, seeking to reverse these trends and reconnect teens with their food supply and others, especially in urban areas. For example, The Edible Schoolyard, was begun by Alice Waters in Berkeley, CA several years ago in response to these same unsettling concerns. In collaboration with Martin Luther King Junior Middle School, the Edible Schoolyard provides urban public school students with a one-acre organic garden and a kitchen classroom. Using food systems as the underlying theme, students learn how to grow, harvest, and prepare nutritious produce according to the seasons. Experiences in the kitchen and garden foster a better understanding of how the natural world sustains us, and promote the environmental and social well being of our school community.
Perhaps the most comprehensive and inspiring model is The Food Project, located in Boston, MA with a farm nearby in Lincoln. Begun in the early 90’s by a farmer and activist who was concerned by the lack of meaningful work for urban and suburban youth, as well as their separation from agrarian life, he began farming a small plot of suburban land with youth. Today, The Food Project has its own 31-acre farm in Lincoln plus three city farm lots in Boston’s Roxbury neighborhood. It employs over 100 young people and 25 full-time staff and engages nearly 2,000 volunteers annually and grows over 250,000 pounds of chemical-pesticide-free food each season for charitable donation, subsidized sale at farmers’ markets, and youth-driven food enterprises. Moreover, it has become a national model and resource center of youth programs seeking to connect diverse communities, provide youth leadership development as well as work towards reconnecting communities with the land, local food and sustainable farming practices.
With so many interconnecting issues surrounding farming and our youth, it is indeed an exciting one to engage in. And, because the church is too often lagging behind on the environmental front where we should be leading, (note that the two models listed above are not faith-based), it is all the more important for Christians to jump in.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
What messages are we sending to our youth by the way we purchase and eat our food?
Farming and food are deeply complex covering many different social, environmental, economic, political and even theological issues? What are some of them? (i.e. poverty, urban/rural divide, stewardship of creation, health…)
How do you think farming and food could be avenues to bring diverse people together? While you may have not had any experience with farming, how has food been a way to connect with people?
Connect with a local farm and take your friends if you’re a teen or take your youth if you’re an adult to visit. Look into buying a “share” together and enjoy fresh produce each week throughout the summer season (see – Community Supported Agriculture – CSA)
Plant, cultivate and watch it grow! Use any space in and around where you live (window sills, porches, yards, roofs!, local community garden plots) to grow your own produce and flowers.
Start composting your kitchen scraps and feed them into your garden, your neighbor’s or a local farmers’/community gardens.
Watch a documentary like “The Global Banquet” or “Beyond Organic” (see resource list) to inspire discussion around this issue.
Host a cooking or canning party where you cook/can fresh food that you’ve picked or gotten locally. Salsa’s are so easy and so fun to eat.