Nourishing the Planet’s opinion editorial on urban agriculture was recently published in the Boston Herald.

Urban gardens and farmers markets are cropping up in cities all over the world. (Photo credit: Patrick Whittemore, Boston Herald)

The article highlighted the importance of urban agricultural initiatives, such as urban community gardens, in improving global food security. Innovations in sustainable agriculture, particularly urban farming, are becoming even more important as we must find a way to feed a global population that is expected to reach 9 billion by 2050. Worldwide, about 800 million people are engaged in urban agriculture, providing 15 to 20 percent of the world’s food.

Click here to read the article.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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By Molly Theobald

Roots of Health, an organization based on the island of Palawan in the Philippines, views maternal and reproductive health as concerns that impact the well-being of entire communities,. “The better care women take of themselves, the better care they can take of their children, and the better children will be able to care for themselves in the future,” says Amina Evangelista Swanepoel, Founding Executive Director of Roots of Health.

The holes in the sides of the drum create an area for planting that is more than six times greater than the top surface of the container. (Photo credit: Molly Theobald)

Roots of Health works with small, informal settlements where families have no actual rights over the land they live on and farm. Most of the land available to them is severely degraded by pollution from mining, development, or run-off from the city. “The families in these communities don’t own their land, they are squatting here,” explains Amina. “They struggle to feed themselves and earn an income with what they have.” A community called Pulang Lupa, for example, is located on an abandoned mercury mine and their soil and water is severely polluted with dangerous chemicals and minerals.

Roots of Health and its staff of young nurses and teachers, work directly with mothers and children, to bring reproductive and maternal health, nutrition, and education into the community.

Roots of Health is also providing families with the tools they need to improve their nutrition. One of these tools is a vertical garden—a large plastic drum with 40 holes cut evenly around the sides. These holes create an area for planting that is more than six times greater than the top surface of the container. The drum is filled with compost-enriched soil and planted with seeds such as eggplant, chili, pumpkin, okra and various indigenous leafy greens such as alugbati and pechay. Straw is used on the top surface as a mulch to help the soil retain moisture and nutrients.

The soil used in the vertical gardens is a homemade mixture of soil, charcoal, which acts as a conditioner, limestone, to reduce the acidity, and compost, to add additional nutrients to the soil.  In this way, the vertical garden is its own self-contained and fertile growing space, producing healthy and nutrient rich harvests that are isolated from ground pollutants and pests.

The organization prefers to use the plastic drums because the plastic stands up best in the humid, tropical weather, explained Marcus Swanepoel, Media and Program Manager for Roots of Health. The drums cost approximately $15 USD each and the organization provides them to families in exchange for a small deposit.

The vegetables grown in these vertical gardens not only help to improve nutrition for mothers and their children, they are also helping to diversify the diets of the entire community.  Each drum produces enough food to supplement household diets, with surplus left over to be sold within the community. And households have really made the vertical gardens their own, adds Marcus. “I know some families that have set up poles on the top of the drums in order to grow beans—that isn’t something we taught them to do. They are doing it all on their own.”

And doing it all on their own is exactly the goal of Roots of Health. “The idea is to eventually give our work over to the communities,” said Marcus. “We want to build a sustainable system that can live healthy lives without the organization.” It would be a sustainable system that starts with mothers and their children, and improves the health and livelihoods of the whole community.

Molly Theobald was a research fellow for Nourishing the Planet and is now currently pursuing her Master of Laws and Master of Public Administration (L.L.M./M.P.A.) at American University.

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How many more people would take the bus or metro if these services included a “Frequent Rider” reward program, redeemable for cash or goods? How many more people would abandon their car for the bus if every bus ticket was also a lottery ticket, potentially worth thousands of dollars? Citizens of some forward-thinking cities are starting to find out.
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This Friday, Kristin Canty’s film, Farmageddon, will open in Chicago.

Image Credit: Kristin Marie Productions

Kristin Canty’s son was healed of multiple allergies by farm fresh foods, among them raw milk. When she heard of the armed raids and seizures taking place on family farms she was horrified. And knew she had to do something about it. In this film, Canty lets these small farmers tell their stories.

On Monday, August 29th, there will be a special screening of this New York Times Critic’s Pick film, with Guy Meikle, the Executive Chef of Nana, Bridgeport’s first organic restaurant. In addition to drawing awareness to the healing power of food, the event will also highlight the ShowYourHearts.org campaign that is helping two boys who were orphaned and seriously injured by a car accident.

Click here for more event details.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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As part of Worldwatch’s Caribbean Low-Carbon Energy Roadmap project, Climate & Energy Director Alexander Ochs and I made our first country visit to Jamaica. The trip, ten days in total, was a chance to formally meet with project partners at the Jamaican Ministry of Energy and Mining and other governmental departments as well as with stakeholders from across all sectors that are important to the country’s energy future. Throughout the visit, many issues came up repeatedly, including working with the IMF, net billing vs. net metering, calculation of avoided costs as it pertains to renewable energy projects and power purchase agreements, and the cost of taking out a loan for renewable energy investments. All of this led to a very clear initial observation: Jamaica is facing a serious energy crisis, one that can only be tackled with massive investments in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and smarter grid solution.

Wind turbines at Jamaica's Wigton Wind Farm

Jamaica’s GDP is currently around USD $13 billion. In 2010, the country spent USD $1.6 billion on fossil fuel imports, roughly 12 percent of its GDP. That figure was as high as 20 percent before the global economic crisis and it is likely to return to that level as oil prices continue their overall upward trend. Despite enormous renewable resources, fossil fuels comprise 91 percent of the island’s energy source. This dependency on fossil fuels plays a major role in a consumer’s utility bill, or “light bill” as it is commonly called. Currently, consumers pay roughly USD $0.38 to $0.40 per kilowatt hour (kWh) for electricity. By comparison, electricity rates in the U.S. average around $ 0.10 per kWh. As the burden of expensive electricity persists, there is growing support for the government to take action. As Hillary Alexander, Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Energy and Mining, told us, “We need solutions that are practical, implementable and beneficial for the people of Jamaica – and we need them now!”

To date, some of the steps taken by the Jamaican government to deal with the current energy crisis have not been as effective as people had hoped. Net billing has been instituted but there have been few subscribers. One of the key reasons for this is the range in price between which electricity is sold to and bought from the consumer. It has been reported that the country’s sole distributor of electricity, the Jamaica Public Service Company (JPS), will sell electricity at roughly USD $0.35 and buy electricity generated by consumers at roughly USD $0.10 per kWh. This disparity often erodes any benefit a consumer might gain from installing something like photovoltaic (PV) solar panels to help offset their utility bill. The country’s Office of Utility Regulation, (OUR) currently has a contract offer for the net billing solution but that contract does not mention the price difference. The consumer discovers it later.

Further complicating the issue is the price at which JPS purchases electricity. The fore mentioned USD $0.10 per kWh is known as the “avoided cost,” meaning it is the fixed and running costs of an electric utility system that can be avoided by obtaining energy or capacity from qualifying facilities.  This figure and the method by which it was calculated are the subject of debate and Worldwatch plans to research the topic to gain better clarity and will report on it as the project progresses.

Right alongside the debate of net billing is the debate over net metering. Proponents say this solution is the key to lower utility bills for consumers, a larger presence of renewable energy on the island, and a widespread fossil fuel reduction. Opponents point out that the cost of implementing this solution is out of reach for most consumers. They claim that net metering does not factor in delivery price of electricity and that truly measurable gains are likely to come from utility-scale projects only.

Further complicating the issue is the fact that some traditional measures for advancing renewable energy are off limits as a result of a USD $1.2 billion Standby Arrangement with the IMF. For example, until May 31stof this year, import duties on renewable energy equipment had been waived in an attempt to incentivize investment. Renewal does not seem to be on the horizon. Ending that exemption has led to an important source of revenue for the government, revenue that helps address some of the financial issues the country is trying to solve. But according to financial sector employees, the lack of the waived duty has also led to uncertainty and higher project costs and thus, lower investment in renewable energy projects.

Of course there is also the issue of financing. Worldwatch’s Energy & Climate Director, Alexander Ochs, presented to a high-level group of more than 30 professionals from the banking sector. During the conversation that followed, we were introduced to the issue of “the spread between the Development Bank of Jamaica (DBJ) and qualified Approved Financial Institutions (AFI).” DBJ borrows money from a fund that results from its PetroCaribe agreement with Venezuela and pays 6 percent interest on it. That money is then lent to AFI’s at an interest rate of 6.5 percent, to help spur investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. AFI’s are allowed to loan this money out with an interest rate higher than the one they pay but within a limit set by DBJ.  Currently, AFI’s are adding 3 percent to the interest rate, bringing the total to 9.5 percent. The hope is that this rate, down from the 11 or 12 percent rates in recent years, will be enough to stimulate interest in renewable energy, particularly among small-to-medium enterprises. Currently though, the spread – the difference between DBJ’s 6.5 percent and the AFI’s 9.5 percent – is seen as too high.

Worldwatch is now in the process of assimilating the research from this initial trip and using it to help plan the next steps of its Low-Carbon Energy Roadmap. The methodology Worldwatch has created for developing a sustainable energy roadmap should provide some clarity and offer some solutions to the complicated energy issues facing Jamaica.

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By Wayne Roberts

Citywatch: Whether it’s action or traction in the food world, cities are stepping up to the plate. The world is fast going urban, as are challenges of social, economic and environmental well-being. Citywatch is crucial to Worldwatch. Wayne Roberts, retired manager of the world-renowned Toronto Food Policy Council, has his eye out for the future of food in the city. This is the final part of a two-part series. Click here to read the first part. 

Before I outline how this could be done, I should explain why I didn’t hand in this article last week, as originally promised. I faced computer problems that Bell Telephone’s exasperating voicemail machines couldn’t respond to, on the very same day I was trying to pack for an eight-day canoe trip while writing a complex article.

Photo credit: Deb Barndt

It was my mental health version of a perfect storm, a scenario many urban readers will easily identify with. My amygdala, and especially my cingulate cortex — which is supposed to manage negative emotions — weren’t firing due to my crazy-making urban environment. I had to postpone my deadline, but took a story outline with me during a delightful trip to the northern Ontario wilderness area of Killarney Park, where seven of us, led by Debbie Field and Dave Kraft of Beautiful North, clambered into canoes for eight days of virtual isolation.

Nature lover though I be, I didn’t relish a truly natural experience with brown bears, black flies, deer flies, or even fish that had to be beheaded and cleaned. Indeed, I found that human more than natural connections (perhaps for the natural reason that humans are also part of Nature) were part of the healing power of adapting to natural environments.

To start with, life on a canoe trip requires hours of strenuous physical exertion every day, and vigorous exercise is a well-known contributor to mental, as well as physical, well-being. Entire days spent beneath the open sun makes for big doses of Vitamin D, increasingly credited with promoting psychological as well as physical health.  The hard day’s work, together with the absence of outlets for TV or computers at night, means more sleep, yet another producer of mental health.

When all the science experiments are said and done, figuring out the basics of mental health is pretty natural, and shouldn’t rely overly on the genius attributed to rocket scientists or brain surgeons.

The way Nature works on our minds is more complex than many of us imagine. Peace and quiet is the normal way people express the calming effect of being close to Nature, for example. That’s not how I experienced it.

Nature is anything but quiet or peaceful, but the sounds of everyday life in the woods are more soothing and harmonious, less grinding and nerve-wracking than, say, a humming refrigerator or police car siren. Nature is anything but clean, neat, gleaming and bright, but the repetitive (fractal) patterns of leaves and waves are as calming and soothing as the earth toned shades of rock and land.

Conversations are slow and easy, since there’s no need to catch up on the fly before moving on to the next appointment. We relate comfortably with one another, and it feels natural to rely on every one to do their share, to the best of their ability, in a reality where use values – a fire, a fish, clean water – are what counts, not exchange values. Slow food is not just a good choice, it’s the only option, which made for lots of fun at least three times a day.

And York University environmental educator Deb Barndt helps us identify that we, like the breeze, exist in relationship to our campsites, and that we are guests, not owners who control it. In eating and breathing, we feel the environment deep within us, and do not define the environment the way we do in the city — as outside of us.

Before going to sleep each night, we all took time to swat mosquitoes and gaze at the clear unlit skies holding up millions of stars. Impossible amidst the 24/7 bright lights of the Big City, this free light show gives us all some perspective on daily hassles, and fills us with the kind of gratitude and mystery that leads people to thank their lucky stars.

The absence of such a culture of activity, engagement and contribution, is a big part of the dark hole beneath Natural Deficit Disorder, I start to think.

PLANNING LIKE A SCARF

In a world where all the things we need have to be carried on our backs, most things have to serve more than one purpose.

The multi-purpose trip scarf most canoeists wear around their necks, much like the Swiss army knives around makeshift tables, provide clues as to how we will come to our senses back in the city.

The scarf makes sure we don’t become rednecks by protecting the neck from too much exposure to the sun. It can be dipped in the water to keep heads cool. It can be wrapped around hands holding hot handles of pots. It can wipe tables. It can tie things together. In an emergency, it can be a tourniquet.

It is a multi-tasker.

Once regional planners come alive to the planning considerations of cities designed for mental health, human scale and biophilic connections, they need to locate spaces and activities that can make pay the freight of high-spaced city land. This, in my opinion, is where urban agriculture wins its day in the sun.

What Swiss army knives and scarves are to multi-tasking in the wilds, urban agriculture is to multi-tasking in the cities, which is how it pays down the high cost of urban land to support it.

Gardens don’t just grow food. They make use of the compost from the 40 percent of food purchases most city people waste. They can use rain water that otherwise flashfloods through sewers, many times more expensive to repair or expand than gardens are to support. They store carbon beneath the ground, they breathe out oxygen, they evaporate water on hot days. They bring people together to work and team up and provide an icebreaker for conversations. They increase public safety, thanks to plentiful supplies of what the great New York and Toronto planning critic Jane Jacobs called “eyes on the street.” And gardens are usually pretty and pleasing to look at. Food is only one of a garden’s productions, and not necessarily the most valuable or the most productive.

Because of its outstanding multi-tasking potential – the formal term for this is elegance – urban ag is the most efficient and productive way to add more green space and biophilic opportunities to cities.

It is part of a natural threesome for cities of the future attuned to the human brain’s innate need for Nature.

One part of the threesome is school curriculum and space supporting food production, an important baseline for overcoming what Richard Louv famously calls Nature Deficit Disorder among children. “No child left inside,” he chants.

Another part of the threesome is green or living machine architecture, championed by the Toronto-based Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, which supports green walls and roofs as well as water cleaning with aquatic plants. Where life-based infrastructure can displace cement and metal, it should be done, since it the job gets done both well and beautifully.

Judith Heerwagen, an environmental psychologist who’s edited a prize-winning anthology on biophilic design, told the Toronto magazine Living Architecture Monitor that she sees such technologies as contributing Vitamin G (green) to the world. Because “nature nurtures,” she says, green technologies will “play a significant role in urban public health.”

Alongside reform to the educational and built environment, food production in parks, backyards, boulevards, balconies and windowsills completes the threesome of new elements that can enhance today’s recreational parks.

LIVING ARCHITECTURE FOR THE URBAN CENTURY

To my mind, such infrastructure addresses a central paradox of the next century, likely to be known as the Urban Century, in which over 60 percent of the world’s population is urban.

Cities are economically unbeatable because their placement of so many people and functions in so little space creates so many opportunities for cooperation and exchange, and for producing at scale – what Toronto author and green energy expert Jeb Brugmann calls the Urban Advantage.

This great strength has its own counterpoint — great fragility owing to an overly manufactured environment distanced from human scale and needs.

Nor does a manufactured environment hold out much promise for future physical health in the Big City.

In late July, the U.S. Center for Disease Control issued a media release on extreme heat events, holding them responsible for 675 premature deaths a year, more than the combined number killed by tornadoes, floods, hurricanes and lightning combined.

Living roofs and walls, which cool air through evaporation, are naturals when it comes to coping with such heat.  By contrast, heat-storing cement, metal and pavement based technologies only compound health risks.

Heat events will be equally stressful for Toronto, where an average of 120 people a year have died prematurely due to heat stress over the past several decades.

To bring the city into harmony with human needs, cities will need to get their outside-in and inside-out with nature into shape. Figuring out stuff like is what brains are supposed to be good for. We now know it’s also what brains need.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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Nourishing the Planet’s opinion editorial was recently published in The Baltimore Sun, Maryland’s largest circulation newspaper.

The article discussed the importance of improving food supply chains, instead of simply increasing food production, as a means of achieving global food security, while protecting the environment. Innovations that minimize food wasted in traveling from farm to fork and practices that make the most of the food that farmers are already growing warrant a closer look. A thoughtfully constructed food chain can alleviate hunger and increase incomes from farming without planting any additional seeds.

Click here to read the article.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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By Alina Paul-Bossuet

Alina Paul-Bossuet is a communications specialist for ICRISAT. This article was originally posted on AlertNet.

The Horn of Africa is facing its worst drought in 60 years destroying crops, killing livestock and causing hunger and famine across parts of Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti, Kenya and Uganda.

A drought-hit farmer in Malawi stands near his lost maize crop, while the pigeon peas he planted flourish in the background. (Photo credit: ICRISAT)

Governments and humanitarian organizations are responding to the crisis, distributing food as well as agricultural inputs such as seeds.

Given that drought regularly strikes this region – and researchers say climate change will bring more extreme weather – we need to use the current emergency operations to support longer term agricultural recovery and development. In the coming weeks, we must involve the affected farmers and the existing local economy (such as the village shopkeepers, mostly agro-dealers selling seeds) wherever possible to find durable solutions to make communities more resilient when the next drought comes.

This concept is not new. Back in 2000, a UN task force on food security in the Horn of Africa highlighted the need for farmers to adopt drought-tolerant crop varieties. The challenge is to get these seeds to farmers and encourage them to grow these crops on a large scale.

SMALL SEED PACKS

Eunice Makenga is part of the answer. She runs a small shop in Kenya’s Nzaui district selling seeds, fertilizers and pesticides. She is one of only a few agro-dealers to sell drought-tolerant seeds of sorghum, pigeon pea, cowpea and beans which she buys  as small ‘trial packs’ from Janey Leakey’s farm in Nakuru.

Leakey’s seed business is the first in Kenya to specialise in these “neglected crops” and to supply them in small packs designed especially for the small holder farmer.

“I can afford to stock them because they are cheap,” Makenga says. “This is also a good way to get farmers to try these seeds. But there is not much demand. Farmers need more incentives to buy them,” she adds.

The reality in the field is that the demand for and supply of such drought-resistant crops is poor in this region. Farmers grow some for their household consumption but mostly focus on growing marketable crops like maize that suffer in dry areas.

“Part of the longer-term solution to problem harvests is to grow climate-adapted crops,” says Leakey, who founded Leldet seed company three years ago. “When you look around you in failed rain areas, farmers are doing better with pigeon pea, sorghum and beans than maize. But, they will still focus on growing maize next year as that’s where they see the market being,” she adds.

Though drought-resistant seeds are available, farmers have been slow to embrace the new varieties.

THE ‘LELDET BOUQUET’

“We tell farmers that diversifying to more drought resistant crops is key to cope with the changing climate,” Leakey says. To encourage them, she offers a “Leldet Bouquet”: Instead of 2kg maize seeds costing 300 Kenyan shillings ($3), the farmer can get a mix of five seed packets with an equivalent weight of cowpeas, sorghum, beans, pigeon pea, millet and maize. The mix of crops in the “bouquet” is adapted to the farmer’s location.

Leakey has been working with researchers from the International Crop Research Centre for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and Agricultural Research for Development in Africa (IITA), three of the 15 centres that make up the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the world’s largest international agriculture research coalition), as well as the Kenya Agriculture Research Institute (KARI) to develop and distribute higher yielding and more drought- and pest-resistant crop varieties to improve harvests for smallholder farmers in difficult conditions.

The project has also been supported by The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) to develop small seed packets particularly suited to poor farmers, in order to encourage adoption of more resilient farming. Sales show that such small trial packs can be effective in getting higher yielding and better adapted seeds to small farmers, particularly women.

The successful harvests farmers have had after sowing the contents of these packs suggests that food security could be better achieved if more farmers grew adapted crops which survive dry spells and erratic rainfall.

BOOSTS IN HARVESTS

For instance, improved varieties of pigeon pea have produced an average 38 percent rise in harvests, ICRISAT data shows. Boosts for improved groundnut and chickpea varieties have averaged 59 percent and 33 percent respectively.

Before the improved varieties became available, yields for these “neglected crops” had been low in the region.

“All of these (traditionally) are grown from seeds farmers have saved from the previous harvest or procured from the market where seed quality is poor and adaptation not known. This means a higher risk of crop failure or poor yields,” Leakey says.

Leakey says women are keen to try the packs. They are affordable (the price of a cup of tea in some cases) and enable farmers to experiment to see what benefits they get.

Leakey’s seed packs speak to the women in a language they can understand, with three small packs of crops such as sorghum, cowpea and beans sold as “pangusa njaa haraka” which means “wipe away hunger quickly” in Swahili.

To the woman buying, this means that she can give her children sorghum porridge for breakfast and beans and cowpea leaves for other meals within a relatively short time period. Farmers are also keen to try pigeon pea varieties that mature quickly, need less water and can be used for food, fodder and firewood.

INCENTIVES

We need to ensure adapted and improved seeds are supplied to farmers in a sustainable way – and this involves strengthening the weak local seed distribution system.

 Ultimately, we need policies to encourage local seed businesses to sell improved varieties of drought- tolerant crops to smallholder farmers. ICRISAT is working with organizations such as The African Seed Trade Association, which lobbies for better incentives to help small seed companies develop their supply and rural retail network.

Farmers will only grow these improved crops on a large scale if they are convinced that they are the best bet for income generation. Including crops like sorghum in national strategic grain reserves and the World Food Program (WFP) Purchase for Progress (P4P) initiative could help.

Imagine the Kenyan government orders thousands of tons of sorghum and other drought-resistant crops to fill its strategic grain reserve shops. Farmers would then see these crops in a new light because there is a market for them. They would want to buy such seeds for the next planting season. And Makenga would be delighted to see them coming into her shop.

And if rains are scarce early next year, these farmers will still reap a harvest and manage to escape the drought trap they find themselves in today.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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As summer comes to an end, school is just around the corner for children across the United States. For children enrolled in state schools, this typically means the return of unhealthy lunches that are best described as “fast food”: hamburgers, chicken nuggets, fried snacks, and sugary soft drinks. Yet school lunch programs can play a key role in reinforcing healthy eating behaviors by integrating such measures as school gardens, nutrition education, locally sourced organic food, and efforts that affirm the value of mealtimes.

School feeding programs can play an important role in improving nutritional-intake for children worldwide. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

Childhood obesity is a major problem in North America, where annual obesity rates have seen significant gains in recent decades. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 17 percent of U.S. children and adolescents aged 2–19 are obese, nearly triple the share in 1980. Many studies document the connection between a school’s food environment and dietary behaviors in children. As anyone who grew up in the U.S. public school system can attest, lunches served in the country are highly processed and high in sodium, sugar, and fat.

Initiatives that connect schoolchildren to fresh, healthy foods and that encourage healthy eating habits from a young age are critical to ending the obesity endemic. One example is the U.S.-based 30 Project, which brings together key organizations and activists working on hunger, obesity, and agriculture to talk about their visions for the food system over the next 30 years. The effort is exploring long-term solutions to address obesity and improve the food system by ensuring that everyone has easy access to fresh fruits and vegetables, among other goals.

With children preparing to begin the school year, Nourishing the Planet offers the following five solutions for schools to encourage healthy eating:

  • Connect Local Farmers to Schools: Providing locally sourced foods in school cafeterias improves diets and strengthens local economies. The U.S. state of Vermont is a leader in the nationwide Farm to School movement, which integrates food and nutrition education into classroom curricula and serves local foods in school cafeterias. Over the past decade, 60 percent of Vermont schools have joined the effort, forming a statewide network aided by the state’s Agency of Agriculture, Department of Health, and Department of Education. Children benefit from farm-fresh foods for breakfast and lunch, and local farmers expand their business into a market worth over $40 million. Urban areas across the United States, from New York to Los Angeles, are also participating in this growing movement.
  • Savor Mealtimes: Emphasizing the importance of mealtimes teaches children to appreciate the value and taste of good food. France, which has one of the lowest rates of childhood obesity in Europe, takes lunch very seriously. School lunches are well funded, and every part of the meal is prepared on school grounds in professional-grade kitchens—a stark contrast to the heat-and-serve kitchens in U.S. schools. Kids from preschool to high school are served four- to five-course meals and are encouraged to take time eating and socializing with friends. At some schools, detailed menus even suggest what parents should serve their children for dinner. Soft drink and snack machines are banned from school premises.
  • Implement School Gardens: School gardens provide hands-on opportunities for children to cultivate and prepare organic produce. In the United States, REAL School Gardens creates learning gardens in elementary schools in high-poverty areas of north Texas. The organization has found that the school gardens not only nurture healthy lifestyles and environmental stewardship, but can also improve academic achievement through active participation. REAL School Gardens supports 81 schools, providing daily access to nature for more than 45,000 children and 2,700 educators.
  • Nutrition Education: The city of Chicago’s public school district doesn’t offer mandatory nutrition education as part of its curriculum. To fill this void, the nonprofit Communities in Schools of Chicago (CISC) connects 170 schools to volunteer professionals who run a broad range of programs that address the social, emotional, health, and enrichment needs of students. Demand for nutrition classes has almost tripled in the past four years. This is due in part to the results of a Personal Health Inventory administered by CISC to more than 5,000 students, which showed that nutrition was the lowest scoring area.
  • Equal Access to Healthy Foods: Childhood obesity disproportionately affects low-income families that may not be able to afford healthy foods. Schools in Greeley, Colorado, are taking a giant leap forward by cooking every meal from scratch. This is a much healthier alternative to the processed factory-food items that dominate school cafeterias today, and can be more cost effective for poorer school systems that take advantage of U.S. federal reimbursement rules. With 60 percent of the city’s students qualifying for free or reduced-price meals, Greeley is proving that it isn’t only rich school districts that can provide their children with healthy meals.

Additional Examples:

  • The Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) coordinates relationships among school cafeterias and local food producers in California’s San Francisco Bay Area, bringing nutritious meals to students who might not otherwise be able to afford them.
  • The Fresh from the Farm program in Chicago conducts classroom activities such as tastings, cooking demonstrations, visits from farmers, helping in school gardens, and field trips to local organic farms.
  • Revolution Foods delivers tasty and healthy breakfasts, lunches, and snacks to schools in Colorado, California, and Washington, D.C. Many of the ingredients are organic and locally sourced, and no artificial flavors, trans fats, high-fructose corn syrup, or milk with hormones and antibiotics are used at all.
  • Seeds of Nutrition helps schools in Atlanta, Georgia, start school gardens and teach children how to prepare delicious recipes using the fruits of their labor. The group also collaborates with teachers to create cross-curricular lessons that center on gardens and food.
  • The Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, California, is a one-acre organic garden and kitchen classroom where inner-city students at a local Middle School participate in all aspects of growing, harvesting, and preparing seasonal produce.
  • New York City’s enormous school district used its market power to pressure vendors to reduce food prices and eliminate unhealthy items, including fried food, artificial ingredients, and trans fats, from its cafeterias. With this welcome change, many children now enjoy fresh fruit, salad bars, whole-grain breads and pasta, and foods made with low-fat and low-sodium recipes.
  • In 2010, Italy adopted a nationwide policy to supply all school cafeterias with locally sourced organic food in an effort to curb childhood obesity and preserve culinary traditions. Seventy percent of all school cafeteria food in Rome is now organic, with ingredients coming from 400 Italian organic farms.

Obesity is an immense problem for children growing up in today’s world of processed junk food, but many opportunities exist to reverse this trend. Schools are the most efficient means of transmitting healthy behavioral changes that can last a lifetime to students, families, and communities. It all starts with connecting schools to the best foods available: fresh, organic, and local.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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Check out this recent article by Diet for a Hot Planet author and State of the World 2011 contributing author, Anna Lappé.

Sustinable farming practices can often bring the same benefits of GMOs, without the environmental costs. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

The article discusses how alternatives to GMO technology, such as “sustainable intensification”, are less expensive and better for the environment. “By definition, sustainable intensification means producing abundant food while reducing agriculture’s negative impacts on the environment. Sustainable farming has many other co-benefits as well, including improving the natural environment by increasing soil carbon content, protecting watersheds and biodiversity, and decreasing the human health risks from exposures to toxic chemicals,” according to Lappé.

Click here to read the full article.

To purchase your own copy of State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet, please click HERE. And to watch the one minute book trailer, click HERE.

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