Thursday, April 17, 2014

What we talk about when we talk about food

For those of you following my climate chronicles — and I don't mean just this sporadically-penned blog, but the amazing adventure I'm enjoying — you'll know that I started this gig with Earth Charter Indiana with the idea that I was going to talk to Indiana kids about climate change.

Well, I do that, but guess what, kids already know about climate change because they learn about it in school.

And so, I often find myself listening to kids talk about food. And in the process, I find that the issue is their frustration with their food systems: what they eat, what they are not allowed to eat, what their food is served on, and what they're allowed to do with their food waste.

This issue is so massive, I will only try and bite off, so to speak, a little bit in this particular blog. Our new web site, Youth Power Indiana, will track these discussions, frustrations — and ultimately, celebrate the numerous successes of school kids all over Indiana when it comes to food and food systems.

Last week, I visited Decatur Discovery Academy. This remarkable high school attended the Eco-Science Fair at the Indiana State Museum for the Going Green Festival in March. I was so impressed with what these kids are doing at their school regarding sustainability stewardship, especially in the area of food, that I had to do a site visit.

Food scraps from lunch are collected in this pail...

...then dumped into their composting area outside, adjacent to the school.
Raised garden beds are recipients of the composted nutrients.
Listening to the stories of these students, I learned that the school had supported a student-driven initiative to bring a chicken coop to the school. This program idea was initially rejected by the school board. The school tried a different approach, letting the students themselves approach the school board.

I can only imagine how irresistible that was! Indeed, they were granted the permission to build and place a chicken coop on their school grounds.

The existing chicken coop, in need of an upgrade.
Their new chicken coop in its construction phase.
See above for a student-led design for a new chicken coop. Their old one is a bit dilapidated, in part because of its exposure to the elements. They believe this construction will be more durable.

What's next for Decatur Discovery Academy? Well, for one thing — besides completing the new coop — they'd like a bee hive, something they've been told they can not do. Perhaps the students advocating for it in person might make the difference!

I know that, for example, at the old Project School in Indianapolis, they had bee hives for two years, and not one kid was stung.

Also, apparently, there are bees LOOSED in nature! Crazy, I know...

The food saga continues...

This week I visited another Eco-Science Fair attendee, Paul I. Miller School 114. (If there is an underlying message you should take away it's this: You show up, I'll show up.)

Anyway, this IPS school had wonderful display at the Eco-Science Fair!

School 114; thanks to Jeremy McClean for this photo!

I met with the eco club, showed a bit of my presentation, but ended up spending the majority of time talking about ... yep, food.

The kids told me a harrowing story, one I think deserves a deeper investigation, in case there are some journalists reading this blog. The school used to receive whole fruit as part of a federal food program.

Now, they receive their fruit cut up in pieces and stuck into plastic bags.

If you think I am making this up, then feast, so to speak, your eyes on this:

See, you thought I might be kidding.

Want to see how it makes Luke, a student at School 114, feel?

Not too happy, is he?

The kids said they'd like to stop this silly procedure, but other than writing letters to leaders, they didn't exactly know what to do.

Nor do I. All I know is these young stewards of the planet are doing everything they can to improve their food systems, and we should do everything we can to help them.

In the process, we can support our local farmers, our local economy, and the health and well-being of our kids and our communities. Whatever obstacles exist should be solved.

Speaking of local farmers schooling and feeding kids, I left School 114 and in under 5 minutes found myself at the doorstep of Andrew Distelrath, whose Distelrath Farms is renown throughout the Indianapolis area.

Andrew Distelrath
Andrew's got big plans, including converting his farm into a school, where kids can learn much of their existing curriculum through farming. Project-based learning is extraordinarily powerful — and STEM-friendly as well.

Imagine this generation of kids learning math, science, history, social studies, engineering, technology and art through growing food that they themselves consume.

That's more "wins" than I can even count.

Distelrath Farms: Imagine the possibilities...
It was just another day in the life of this lucky man. Me.

What better thing to do, than to hang out at a school with great kids and supportive teachers, then make an unplanned visit to a neighbor and see something like this:

I call this My Year of Living Joyously.


  1. Dear JP:

    May a rapidly proliferating throng of enterprising students and eco-teachers bring you many more joyous days like the one you described for years to come!

    Thank you for addressing food systems on your environmental blog. Of all the contributing influences in the bio-, physical, and social ecology of the planet, food may be the most democratic and accessible, educationally speaking. Yet, Decatur Discovery Academy is a rare breed of school. As you know from the Project School experience, the benefits of discovery learning are not readily apparent to educational policy makers obsessed with quantitative school accountability via standardized testing.

    I hope our respective work paths continue to converge on ways to integrate environmental education with food-based learning activities. Thank you for this encouraging news.

    Charles Hammond
    Management Consultant in Work-based Learning