What happens when you ask kids to think about climate change? They’re instincts are always on. Show a classroom of 2nd graders a picture of pesticide run-off from farms, the resulting algae blooms in our great lakes, the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico — and the room goes quiet. Then they start asking why. Why do people spray chemicals if it kills our sea life? Why do we buy food from Mexico that farmers already grow in Minnesota? Why don’t we buy “ugly foods” instead of let them go to waste?
If anyone has seen Midwest Food Connection in the classroom, they know our lessons are anything but doom and gloom. We believe in the power of creating a positive environment to encourage healthy and conscientious eating. This is why our lesson What is Organic? turns quickly from the environmental damage that conventional farming causes to the amazing benefits of organic farming. Kids get to think creatively about how they would solve a pest problem by working with nature instead of fighting against it. They look wide-eyed at a real praying mantis egg case and a tupperware full of ladybugs as they learn about bio-control and the insectivores that aid farmers in managing pests. They play a fun “farmer says” game and best of all, they discover the fresh taste of organic herbed butter on a slice of baguette.
This year while teaching our new lesson series, Climate Conscious Cuisine, I experienced classroom after classroom become animated by the changing climate and how we, as consumers, can help. When teaching Conserving Food Creatively, I saw kids switch from making faces at misshapen vegetables to eagerly asking to try a carrot with legs. Once they learn that ugly food tastes just the same and that 40% of our food is thrown away, students become passionate about saving the food! Through a song to the tune of A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can We Kick It?” our students hold up ugly foods, brown bananas, and crusts of bread while responding to questions like “Can we save it?” or “Can we eat it?’ with the exclamation, “Yes we can!” I love singing this song with kids because it not only helps them remember the solutions to food waste, but it empowers them to act. Yes. We can.
During this time when Minnesota is going through its biggest environmental lawsuit due to 3M’s chemical dumping, as we wait anxiously for the Public Utilities Commission’s decision on whether or not to build Line 3, it is easy to become disheartened by the magnitude of the environmental problems we face. But our students show an innate desire to keep our waters clean and to protect wildlife. This gives me hope. They understand the importance of a healthy earth and they quickly pick up on how their food choices directly impact its health. Teaching this unit is one way in which Midwest Food Connection is equipping young people with the skills to care for an endangered world, one bite at a time.