Archive for the ‘Education’ Category


“Botany on Your Plate” and “Nourishing Choices”: Resources for a Healthier Classroom

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By Alyssa Casey

In the United States, the National Gardening Association educates students about the health benefits of eating plant-based food through a variety of publications written specifically for school communities. Resources such as Botany on Your Plate: Investigating the Plants We Eat and Nourishing Choices: Implementing Food Education in Classrooms, Cafeterias, and Schoolyards provide innovative plans and tools for bringing plant and nutrition education into the classroom, as well as connecting children to their local food economy.

Botany on Your Plate offers a series of life science classroom lessons targeted specifically at grades K-4. (Photo Credit:

Botany on Your Plate offers a series of life science classroom lessons targeted specifically at grades K-4. Each lesson studies a different category of plant, such as fruits or flowers, or a different plant part, such as roots or leaves, with the aim of helping children develop a well-rounded knowledge of many edible plants. Students work in pairs or groups studying, dissecting, and recording observations about the plants, while teachers explain the functions of each plant part as well as the nutritional benefits that the plants can offer. The lessons also suggest plant-based snack items to feed students, exposing them to foods they may never have tried.

Botany on Your Plate incorporates diverse educational subjects into its lessons. Students enhance language and writing skills by learning plant vocabulary and journaling about observations and tastings. They gain scientific understanding when learning plant parts or thinking about a plant’s role in the ecosystem, and explore artistic skills when drawing and labeling plant diagrams. Each lesson offers step-by-step instructions and suggestions for tailoring activities to different skill levels. The book also contains a master list of supplies and produce for each lesson, a collection of plant diagrams and nutrition labels, and a glossary of terms that students can learn.

The second publication, Nourishing Choices, takes a broader approach, highlighting projects and procedures for bringing food, nutrition, and plant education into schools on a larger scale. From initial assessments, to the integration of food education into curricula, to the addition of healthier options in the lunchroom, the publication serves as a roadmap for schools and school districts. The abundance of ideas allows school communities to select programs that fit their size, scope, and needs. Profiles of successful projects around the country—including school garden programs, field trips to local farms, and even school food labs where students actually prepare lunch—offer ideas and advice to communities that are just beginning to implement food education programs.



Sowing the Seeds of a Food-Secure Future

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By Dana Drugmand

Worldwide, 195 million children suffer from malnutrition, which adversely affects their development and overall well-being. Approximately 26 percent of these children live in sub-Saharan Africa. And according to the International Food Policy Research Institute, the number of malnourished children in the region will rise 18 percent between 2001 and 2020. Fortunately, innovations such as school feeding programs and kitchen vegetable gardens are working to combat malnutrition and hunger in African children.

Schoolchildren in Uganda are learning how to grow fruits and vegetables in kitchen gardens funded by Seeds for Africa. (Photo Credit: Kellogg)

One organization, Seeds for Africa, has been instrumental in helping children gain access to local, nutritious fruits and vegetables. A central part of this organization’s work is teaching children the value of growing their own food by helping them to establish kitchen gardens and fruit tree orchards. Seeds for Africa funds kitchen vegetable garden development at primary schools in Malawi, Kenya, Uganda, and Sierra Leone.

In Kenya, Seeds for Africa coordinator Thomas Ndivo Muema has helped primary schools in the Nairobi region establish vegetable gardens and orchards of 200 fruit trees and has also supplied water tanks. In Uganda, fruit trees and vegetable gardens have been established at 77 schools around Kampala, the capital city. And in Sierra Leone, Seeds for Africa coordinator Abdul Hassan King has helped oversee tree planting projects in 50 primary schools and advised kitchen vegetable gardens operating at 15 other schools.

In 2011, Kellogg UK donated £6434 (US$9,946) to Seeds for Africa to fund “breakfast clubs” in Kenya, Uganda, and Zambia—clubs in which schoolchildren are fed breakfast if they attend class. In many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, some 60 percent of children come to school without having eaten breakfast, if they attend school at all. By providing a nutritious breakfast, the initiative helps to improve attendance as well as academic performance and student well-being. Results from breakfast club trials indicate that students who participated scored better on school tests and were happier overall than students who did not participate. School attendance also increased to 95 percent.



Documentary Sheds New Light on Thriving Community Gardens

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By Carol Dreibelbis

There are an estimated 18,000 community gardens in the United States and Canada, according to the group Why Hunger, and thousands more worldwide. Designing Healthy Communities, a project of the nonprofit Media Policy Center, notes that community gardens “can play a significant role in enhancing the physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being necessary to build healthy and socially sustainable communities.”

Naasir Ali participates in the “Growing Food…Growing Together” program at the Washington Youth Garden. (Photo credit: Cintia Cabib)

In her 2011 documentary A Community of Gardeners, filmmaker Cintia Cabib offers an intimate look at the vital role that seven community gardens play in Washington, D.C.

At Common Good City Farm, a work-exchange program enables local residents to volunteer in the garden in exchange for fresh produce. One volunteer explains just how important the garden is for her: “The garden plays a big role in my life because it feeds me. I live out of this garden: whatever I get every Wednesday, that’s what feeds me for the whole week.”

At Fort Stevens Community Garden, an organic garden run by the National Park Service, immigrant gardeners from around the world grow fruits and vegetables that are native to their homelands in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean. The Park Service also provides land and water for the Melvin Hazen Community Garden, which was once a World War II victory garden.



Hungry for Change: Five Blogs Every U.S. Food Activist Should Follow

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By Sophie Wenzlau

Blogs are a dynamic medium to share and learn information about topics related to sustainable agriculture (e.g., rooftop gardening, Farm to School programs, and agricultural policy). Today, Nourishing the Planet recommends five blogs that provide useful information and insightful commentary on current issues in sustainable agriculture in the United States—blogs every food activist should follow.

(Photo Credit:

1. The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Blog 

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) is an alliance of grassroots organizations that advocates for federal policy reform to advance the sustainability of agriculture, food systems, natural resources, and rural communities.

NSAC publishes weekly blogs on agricultural policy as it relates to topics such as the U.S. Farm Bill, beginning farmers, Farm to School programs, agriculture appropriations, minority farmers, and organic agriculture. NSAC envisions an agricultural system where “a safe, nutritious, ample, and affordable food supply is produced by a legion of family farmers who make a decent living pursuing their trade, while protecting the environment and contributing to the strength and stability of their communities.”

Recent posts you won’t want to miss include: Strengthening Policy for Soil Health and a Food Secure World, Path to the 2012 Farm Bill: Is a Deal Possible and What Would A Good Deal Look Like?, and What’s at Stake: Energy Savings and Renewable Energy for Producers and Rural Businesses.

2. The Seedstock Blog

Seedstock is an organization focused on innovation and sustainability in agriculture; it promotes agricultural startup companies, university research, urban agriculture initiatives, and farmers employing innovative agricultural techniques.

The organization publishes an informative daily blog on topics related to agricultural innovation and sustainability, current events, and sustainable farms. Recent posts include: National Farmers Market Directory Sees 52 Percent Spike in Winter Listings, Hydroponic Urban Ag Startup Seeks to Create Scalable, Sustainable and Affordable Model to Feed Cities, and N.C. State CEFS Report Lays Out Strategies to Reduce Environmental Impact of Outdoor Hog Production.

3. City Farmer News

City Farmer News, an organization based in Vancouver, Canada, encourages urbanites to plant food gardens in lieu of grassy lawns. The organization believes that “shoemakers, fashion models, computer geeks, politicians, lawyers, teachers, chefs…all city dwellers…can grow food at home after work in back yards, community gardens or on flat roofs.”

The City Farmer blog is a collection of stories about urban farmers from around the world. It is an excellent resource for anyone interested in urban farming and urban agricultural policy.

4. The Environmental Working Group Blog 

The mission of the Environmental Working Group (EWG), a lobby and research organization, is to use the power of public information to protect public health and the environment. The organization is perhaps best known for criticizing the continuation of subsidies to big agribusinesses.

The EWG food blog provides a critical perspective on topics like the U.S. Farm Bill, school nutrition, local food, and food system transparency. Recent posts include: Americans Eat Their Weight in Genetically Engineered Food, Dairy’s Downward Spiral a Consequence of Broken Biofuels Policy, and California Boosts Funding Opportunities for a New Generation of Sustainable Farmers and Local, Healthy Food.

5. Civil Eats

Civil Eats is a daily news source for critical thought about the U.S. food system. The organization, founded in 2009, is a community resource of more than 100 contributors who are, “active participants in the evolving food landscape from Capitol Hill to Main Street.” Civil Eats is committed to building socially and economically just communities by promoting sustainable agriculture.

The blog is divided into sub-topics: business and technology, eating culture, energy policy, environment, food access, food policy, grow your own, health, in the kitchen, life on the farm, re-localize, and take action. It also features multiple blog series, such as Young Farmers Unite and Local Eats.

Other notable agriculture blog sites are: Wasted Food, U.S. Food Policy, La Via Campesina, Yale Sustainable Food Project, Think Forward, and Food Politics.

Sophie Wenzlau is a staff researcher with the Worldwatch Institute.  


“We Plant a Seed, We Grow Our Future:” Larry Laverentz on Refugee Farmers in the United States

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In November 2012, Nourishing the Planet’s Victoria Russo spoke with Larry Laverentz, a program manager with the Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program (RAPP), about his efforts to educate and support refugee farmers in the United States.

Larry has been involved in agriculture for most of his life, from growing up on a cattle farm to working as an agriculture volunteer in Vietnam for International Voluntary Services. His experiences, including earning a bachelor’s degree in Agricultural Economics from Kansas State University and a master’s degree in Public Administration from the University of Pittsburgh, have enabled him to run programs for the U.S. Agency for International Development and prepared him for his current position at RAPP.

RAPP helps refugee farmers bring familiar and nutritious foods home to their families. (Photo credit: RAPP)

How was the Refugee Agricultural Partnership Program created?

In 2003, the director of the U.S. government’s Office of Refugee Resettlement began to track the trend of agrarian backgrounds of refugees, and decided to create a project that would enable refugees to get in touch with their agrarian roots. The project officially started in San Diego and Phoenix, and soon spread into a national program through support from the Institute for Social and Economic Development. The program is currently in its third round of three-year grants, totaling 24 projects nationwide.

What sorts of challenges do refugees face when they come to the United States and try to make a living through agriculture?

Many refugees come to this country wanting to get involved with agriculture. While they may be well-versed in farming practices, marketing their products and making a livelihood from farming in this country are complicated processes. Those who have lived in refugee camps for many years typically have limited education and few English and literacy skills, making it difficult to communicate. This creates barriers, for example, in finding land to rent or getting loans for farm equipment. If refugees have no credit history or practice balancing a budget or repaying loans, they are susceptible to falling into debt. Most refugee farmers must also find an off-farm income to supplement what they make through agriculture.

What strategies does RAPP use to break down these barriers and help refugees?

RAPP aims to educate and assist refugees in areas where they did not have previous experience. Each project uses grant funding to hire a garden coordinator, recruit volunteers, access land and supplies, and assess projects. In the first year, the team will typically build an incubator training farm, focused on intensive production tied to marketing. Perhaps after the first year the project will grow, and refugees will be able to expand or even start their own small farms. In conjunction with the farms, we teach classes on record-keeping and financial literacy, invite guests such as master gardeners to come speak, or coordinate ESL courses structured toward agricultural vocabulary. We try to give them the tools they need to grow their businesses.

Are most of the program participants experienced farmers, or are they new to agriculture?

Most of them are experienced in agriculture but were subsistence farmers in their countries of origin. This means that if they farmed, they were not typically involved in marketing, and they are not used to selling excess crops. Refugee camps do not usually allow farming due to limited space, and technology has advanced from what they knew before—so even if they are experienced farmers, there is still a learning curve. The question that we are trying to answer is “How do you create independence for refugees?” Dr. Hugh Joseph of Tufts University created the nation’s first refugee farming project in 1998, which focused on teaching them how to transition from being gardeners, to market gardeners, to independent farmers. We hope that our program allows them to eventually take their own produce to market, operate their own stand, and know what to plant each season.



Students Protest New, Healthier School Lunches

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By Carol Dreibelbis

Thanks to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, schools across the United States are serving healthier school lunches this academic year. School lunches must meet new nutritional guidelines—such as including fruits and vegetables and limiting fats and sodium—for schools to receive extra federal lunch aid. Calories counts are also restricted: high school, middle school, and elementary school lunches must now be no more than 850, 700, and 650 calories, respectively. Although nutrition and health advocates celebrate this change, a recent article in The New York Times indicates that many students feel differently.

Food waste has increased due to healthier school lunches this year (Photo credit: Librado Romero/The New York Times)

Students in districts around the country have responded to the healthier lunches with boycotts and strikes. According to Shawn McNulty, principal at Mukwonago High School in Wisconsin, participation in the school lunch program had fallen 70 percent as a result of student action. “There is a reduction in nacho chips, there is a reduction in garlic bread, but there’s actually an increase in fruits and vegetables,” Mr. McNulty said. “That’s a tough sell for kids, and I would be grumbling, too, if I was 17 years old.” Students are also throwing away more food in New York City and elsewhere.

Food service directors are using a variety of strategies to encourage students to eat fruits and vegetables, including asking teachers to discuss healthy food in class, giving out free samples, and educating students about where their food comes from and how it is produced. But, schools may simply need to wait for students to grow accustomed to new menu options: according to William J. McCarthy, professor of public health and psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles, children must be exposed to vegetables 10 to 12 times before they eat them on their own. “If our task is to get young kids to eat more fruits and vegetables, we have to be willing to put up with the waste,” he said.

How would you suggest that we teach kids to eat and value healthy foods? Tell us in the comments below!  

Carol Dreibelbis is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.


Saturday Series: An Interview with Nicole Wires

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By Molly Redfield

In our new Saturday Series, we interview inspiring people our readers have nominated. These people are working on the frontlines to improve the global food and agricultural systems. Want to nominate someone?  E-mail your suggestions to Danielle Nierenberg!

Nicole Wires and Kris Jensen of Collective Roots (Photo Credit: Lane Johnson)

Name: Nicole Wires

Affiliation: Collective Roots

Bio: Nicole is the Food System Change Coordinator at Collective Roots, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting sustainable food systems. She has a bachelor’s degree from Stanford University in Earth Systems, an inter-disciplinary and environmental science program. Her interests are in environmental conservation, social justice, and poverty alleviation. In the midst of her undergraduate career, she spent a year in Ecuador and Tanzania working on issues related to health, education, and rural poverty. Her work culminated in the belief that supporting local food systems promotes conservation, economic development, and better health outcomes for impoverished and at-risk communities.

How would you describe the mission of Collective Roots and how did you become a part of this organization?

I would say that Collective Roots’ mission is to engage youth and communities at large in food system change. I started with Collective Roots as an intern. Although I initially worked in international development, I felt that our current working model for development wasn’t effective, and I was discouraged by the process. I saw funding for many international development projects determined by governments or large organizations like the World Bank. Projects implemented following this model weren’t having their intended impacts, or helping the communities they were intended to. Many of the projects focused on altering subsistence models into industrial ones using cash crop exports to lead development. This would have environmental conflicts and other complicated sets of issues. I got frustrated with this movement. After my experience with international development projects, I found myself wanting to work domestically on food justice issues. I began interning with Collective Roots and took a position once it opened up.

What motivates you to work on issues of sustainable agriculture and food justice with Collective Roots?

My motivating factor is definitely the relationships I have with people in East Palo Alto. East Palo Alto is one of the last low-income places to live in the bay area. We have affordable housing, an incredibly rich agricultural history, and the set up for an agricultural cooperative—a sort of utopian society. There are people here who are growing all the food they need for a livelihood on just one acre of land. In the past, the incorporated city was 70 percent African American. The civil rights movement was also huge here. Many of the communities of immigrants that have settled in this area bring with them a strong agricultural heritage. For example, in the late 90s we had a wave of immigration from the Pacific Islands and they brought their rich food and history. The confluence of all of these people and their fascinating connections to food and the land creates an incredible community to work with.

Where does Collective Roots work and how does it encourage community development in these areas?

We’re based in East Palo Alto, which is divided by a highway. This highway creates a physical barrier between East Palo Alto’s wealthy and low-income communities. Where we work spans only 2.5 square miles, but has the highest incidence of foreclosure, unemployment, and type 2 diabetes in the area. We are also expanding into neighboring communities like East Redwood City and Menlo Park.  One of our main efforts is to encourage people to build their own things. We’re a background gardening network with people growing their own food using shared resources. Land is centralized in community gardening and people bring their own materials. Our approach is opposite to that. We have work share parties for communal labor, a seed lending library, and decentralized land. People come to our seed library and then deposit seeds that they have harvested themselves. We also have a tool lending library that people can borrow from. As part of that library, we include food preservation tools for dehydrating and canning foods. People also come to the workshops we host, exchange cell phone numbers with other participants, and then meet up to share their knowledge and seeds. I think this aspect is one of the most amazing things about our program.

Why does Collective Roots have specific school based programs and can you describe them?

We have two main programs. One is for youth and the other is focused on adults. In our youth program, depending on the contracts we have established, we work with 7 to 10 different schools. At these schools, we give cooking, gardening, and nutrition lessons. We also help train teachers and give them the resources they need to conduct these lessons themselves. But working with just youth isn’t enough to get them and their families to eat healthier and more sustainably. Children who get excited about our work need their parents on board at home to support them. Kids don’t have lots of agency on their own, so often times Collective Roots works together with kids and their parents.

How do you think people can be more involved in their local food systems?

There are a number of ways in which people can be more involved. That is one of the things that is so exciting about working with food justice issues. We eat three meals a day. Therefore, we can make multiple choices throughout the course of one day to support local food systems. We have multiple opportunities to think critically about where we get our food and where it’s grown. We can shop at a farmers market, join a local CSA, or grow our own food. I personally advocate a lot for people growing their own food. The experience of growing food really gives people a deeper appreciation for farmers and their work. I find that people who grow their own food are more likely to support local farmers and their communities.


What kind of partnerships does Collective Roots have with the local community and what kinds of relationships do you think are important for the organization to move forward and for Palo Alto’s food system to become more sustainable and integrated?

We work very closely with a number of partner organizations and non-profits. I don’t think we’d be able to do what we do without these partnerships. Many patients who are diagnosed with chronic diseases get involved in our program because of referrals from our partnering health clinics and healthcare facilities. There are even opportunities for them to participate in our programs through their healthcare provider. For example, patients can be eligible to join our network for free. This membership then allows them to access all of our resources. We also have unique and amazing partnerships with schools, drug rehabilitation centers, and residential transition programs for the formerly incarcerated. Our work helps people get their feet back on the ground by helping them to develop life skills, providing job training, and increasing access to healthy food. We really rely on our partnerships and the services they provide—our collaborations are a huge component of our success. Leveraging partnerships not only lets us provide our services to a wider audience, but it also more fully integrates us into our community.

Molly Redfield is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.


Chase Campaign: Feeding and Educating Our Youth

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By Devon Ericksen 

This month, The Worldwatch Institute celebrates the role of youth in the creation of a just and sustainable future. Nourishing the Planet knows that we must not only teach our children about proper nutrition to ensure that they live healthy lives, but also to care about the future of sustainable agriculture. Around the world, children face problems ranging from malnutrition and lack of access to education in developing countries, to obesity and poor school lunches in developed countries.

The future of the world’s food system depends on what we teach and feed our children today (Photo Credit: Food Network)

Though the problems may differ, the solution remains the same: develop local agriculture systems with which to sustainably produce nutritious food for our children. In August, we highlighted ways that people are working to bring agriculture closer to home in our post, “From a Garden in South Africa to a Cafeteria in California: Sharing Meals and Good Ideas”. By making fresh produce more accessible, whether it is delivered from a local farm or grown in the schoolyard, organizations such as Abalimi Bezekhaya in South Africa, the Community Alliance with Family Farmers in California, and the Washington D.C. Farm to School Network are all working to feed our youth healthier food, whether they live in situations of poverty or wealth, whether they are obese or malnourished.

Just in time for school to start, we provided ideas and examples for improving school lunches in our post 15 Innovations to Make School Lunches Healthier and More Sustainable. These changes are badly needed at a time when one-third of American children are overweight or obese—a recent study found that children who eat school lunches are much more likely to be obese than children who bring lunch from home. From school gardens to healthy vending machines, change is happening across the country as people realize the importance of feeding our children healthier food.



Celebrating 25 Amazing Women

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Throughout September, the Worldwatch Institute is celebrating the crucial role that women and youth play in ushering in the just and environmentally sustainable future that we’re working hard to bring about. Even in the 21st century, women own less than 15 percent of the world’s land, earn 17 percent less than men on average, and comprise two-thirds of the world’s 776 million illiterate adults. Today, Nourishing the Planet features 25 amazing women from all over the globe who have been ongoing sources of inspiration, to NtP and others.

If you haven’t already, please vote for Worldwatch as part of the Chase Giving Challenge on Facebook. Click here to cast your vote today! Also please connect with Nourishing the Planet’s Facebook page where you will find infographics, quotes, articles, and news that can’t be found anywhere else.

1.       Rebecca Adamson
Rebecca Adamson, a Cherokee, has worked directly with grassroots tribal communities, and nationally as an advocate of local tribal issues since 1970. She started First Nations Development Institute in 1980 and First Peoples Worldwide in 1997. Adamson’s work established a new field of culturally appropriate, value-driven development which created: the first reservation-based microenterprise loan fund in the United States; the first tribal investment model; a national movement for reservation land reform; and legislation that established new standards of accountability regarding federal trust responsibility for Native Americans. Adamson is active in many nonprofits and serves on the board of directors of numerous organizations, including the Josephine Bay Paul and C. Michael Paul FoundationThe Bridgespan Group, and First Voice International.

2.       Lorena Aguilar
Lorena Aguilar—Global Senior Gender Adviser at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature—is an international advisor for numerous organizations, governments, and academic institutions on topics related to gender, water, environmental health, and community participation, with over twenty-five years of experience in the field of international development. She is actively committed to incorporating gender perspectives into the use and conservation of natural resources in Latin America, and has both created and participated in some of the most influential gender networks in the world. Aguilar has authored over seventy publications, and has been the keynote speaker at numerous high-level international conferences.

3.       Helen Browning
Helen Browning is chief executive of the Soil Association, the United Kingdom’s leading nonprofit working for healthy, humane, and sustainable food, farming, and land use. In addition to running the Soil Association, Browning operates a 1,350 acre organic farm in Wiltshire, and runs the village pub. Helen is also chair of the Food Ethics Council, and has been a valuable member of numerous organizations working to improve the British food and agriculture system, including the Curry Commission on the Future of Farming and Food, the Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology Commission, and the Meat and Livestock Commission. (more…)


Chase Campaign: Empowering Women

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By Devon Ericksen  

As the Worldwatch Institute celebrates women and youth in September, Nourishing the Planet highlights the many ways that women contribute to agriculture all over the world. Women play a crucial role in creating a just and sustainable future, but still face significant barriers around the world. They are underpaid, typically earning about 17 percent less than men, and undereducated, comprising two-thirds of the world’s 776 million illiterate adults. And although women make up over 40 percent of the world’s agricultural workforce, they own less than 15 percent of the world’s farmland. Because women make up such a large part of the agricultural workforce, and yet have significantly less access than men to resources such as education and technology, women’s empowerment must be an important part of future agricultural development policy.

Although women make up over 40 percent of the world’s agricultural workforce, they own less than 15 percent of the world’s farmland (Photo Credit: UNEP)

Our post, “Six Innovations Lifting the World’s Agricultural Workers out of Poverty,” shows that although women often lack access to the same educational and technological opportunities as men, they are just as innovative when it comes to solving problems, such as inventing safer and more efficient technologies that help female farmers.

In August we posted an article by Carolyn Raffensperger, Executive Director of the Science and Information Health Network, previewing the Women’s Congress for Future Generations to be held in September in Moab, Utah. Raffensperger and the Women’s Congress focus on the idea that women have an important role in restoring the ecology of the Earth, and that their voices must be heard in order to do so. From political discourse in the United States to the farms of developing countries, Raffensperger and the Women’s Congress call for a new civil rights movement where women’s voices can speak on behalf of future generations.