Archive for the ‘School’ Category

Nov14

“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: Amazon.com)

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.

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Oct21

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.

Sep06

Sustainable Development through Information: the Community Innovation Resource Center

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By Victoria Russo

Today Nourishing the Planet highlights the Community Innovation Resource Center, a program started by Kaganga John, a Ugandan community activist, farmer, and environmentalist.  Through a partnership with the Global Giving Project, the program aims to collect funds for technological hardware including computers with internet capabilities, radios, and televisions in order to improve the flow of information to Kaganga John’s home community of Kikandwa. Throughout Kaganga John’s life, he has seen his community struggle with chronic issues of hunger and environmental degradation. As a young adult he committed himself to improving the quality of life in his community; through projects such as the Resource Center, he will sustain these changes for future generations to come.

The Community Innovation Resource Center aims to improve the flow of information to Kaganga John’s home community of Kikandwa (Photo credit: Community Innovation Resource Center)

Kaganga John knows firsthand the difficulty and importance of obtaining quality education. Largely self-educated, he started his own second-hand bookstore in order to have greater access to knowledge. When Kaganga John saw that his community largely lacked quality education, he dedicated his life to improving the situation. After helping to reforest, educate, and ensure the sustainability of his community, Kaganga John now faces the challenge of connecting Kikandwa with the rest of the world. Kikandwa is located 50 kilometers from the nearest technology resource center, and has, until recently, lacked access to the internet. Kikandwa is not unique in this respect, as only 10 percent of Ugandans have access to the internet, though that number is growing. Kaganga John hopes that the Global Giving Project will allow his fellow community members to increase their knowledge and to share their experiences with others facing similar challenges.

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Sep06

Innovation of the Week: Tunnel Farming to Boost Food Security

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By Carly Chaapel

In places where severe weather and pests threaten crop yields, farmers are turning to tunnel-shaped greenhouses that improve the quality of their vegetables, decrease the need for pesticides, and promise higher yields by protecting the plants from severe wind, frost, and hail.

Tunnel farming can increase food security in regions with harsh environmental conditions (Photo Credit: Hartwood Farm)

CEDE Greenhouses manufactures greenhouses and tunnels to be implemented throughout southern Africa. Over the past 30 years, they have helped over 350 farmers start their own greenhouse businesses. Recently, CEDE partnered with Klein Karoo Seed Marketing Company to create the Africa Tunnel. Its simple design consists of plastic cloth and supporting beams, and makes it possible for new farmers to enter the business.

Greenhouses can be valuable tools for protecting plants from harsh environmental conditions while also extending the growing season. Where sunlight is lacking, the structure can optimize what light it receives by trapping the long-wave-length heat radiation that is reemitted by objects within the greenhouse walls. In arid or semi-arid regions such as Kenya, greenhouses can lower temperatures by blocking some light with shade cloths and encouraging swift ventilation. Greenhouses may also limit the amount of water that plants lose through transpiration, which can significantly improve yields where water is in short supply. In sub-Saharan Africa, only 0.2 percent of the total agricultural land is irrigated.

In addition to manufacturing the materials necessary for tunnel farming, CEDE also offers training sessions for sustainable crop production. The company teaches farmers how to sow seeds, manage plant growth, and finally market their own fruits and vegetables.

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Sep03

Six Innovations Lifting the World’s Agricultural Workers out of Poverty

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By Catherine Ward

Agriculture employs more than one billion people worldwide—about 34 percent of global workers—making it the second-largest source of employment globally. Yet agricultural workers remain one of the most marginalized, oppressed, and exploited groups in the world. According to a report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Labor Organization (ILO), and International Union of Food, Agriculture, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco, and Allied Workers’ Associations (IUF), the global agricultural workforce is “among the most socially vulnerable; the least organized into trade unions; employed under the poorest health, safety and environmental conditions; and is the least likely to have access to effective forms of social security and protection.”

Agricultural workers are one of the most marginalized, oppressed, and exploited groups in the world (Photo Credit: Planet Matters)

In many countries, up to 60 percent of agricultural workers live in poverty and less than 20 percent have access to basic social security, according to the Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (SARD) initiative. The agricultural sector also has the largest numbers of child workers—nearly 130 million children between the ages of 5 and 17.

Innovations to lift the world’s agricultural workers out of poverty can simultaneously promote sustainable agriculture and international development. Today, Nourishing the Planet offers six solutions to help lift the world’s agricultural workers out of poverty:

1) Support organized labor. Labor unions play an important role in minimizing exploitation among agricultural workers by advocating for higher wages, improved living conditions, and safer work environments. Agricultural workers are often one of the most disempowered groups within societies, and in many countries they lack access to basic healthcare, education, and participation in government. Unions advocate for worker rights, and fight to stop the exploitation of children.

In Ghana, 70 percent of the country’s 23 million inhabitants are involved in the agricultural sector. The General Agricultural Workers Union (GAWU) is the largest union in Ghana and represents many marginalized agricultural groups. The union supports rural communities by providing support in training, learning new skills, and microcredit. GAWU is currently investing in a youth development center, and organizes training workshops for union members. The union has campaigned for better farm wages, so that families don’t have to send their children to work in the agricultural sector.

By supporting community-based organizations, such as the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), consumers in the United States can help ensure that farmworker’s rights are recognized and enforced. The CIW is a coalition of farmworkers working low-wage jobs in the state of Florida, and is responsible for advocating farmworker rights via hunger strikes, boycotts, interfaith prayer vigils, rallies, and marches.  The CIW is organizing a Labor Day Weekend of Action and is calling on the public to actively protest Publix in your state.

2) Include women in agricultural development. Innovative technology solutions can help disadvantaged agricultural workers ease their work burdens and increase productivity. Women make up over 40 percent of the global agricultural workforce, yet are one of the most vulnerable groups amongst these workers. Female agricultural laborers form an invisible workforce, as they often work on the fringes of the formal economy assisting their husbands with manual labor, or producing food to feed their families as opposed to food for sale.

In India there are over 258 million people working in the agricultural sector, and up to 70 percent of rural women are engaged in the agricultural workforce. There have been some noteworthy success stories in India around the creation of innovative technology solutions for agricultural workers. An Indian midwife, Arkhiben Vankar, became known as the pesticide lady when she developed an herbal pesticide that was efficient, low-cost, and toxin-free. This innovation provided Indian women engaged in agricultural work with an alternative to harmful chemical pesticides. Another technological innovation was designed by Subharani Kurian, who developed a bicycle-operated duplex pump to draw up ground water. The innovation assists women based on the idea that leg muscles are more powerful than hand muscles, making a bicycle pump more effective to operate.

Lack of communication, education, and access to technology among women, particularly in developing countries, has often prevented women from receiving the same benefits and opportunities as men in the agricultural sector. For the last 50 years, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) has helped to bring scientific knowledge and technology to poor agricultural workers in developing countries through initiatives like the Collaborative Research Support Programs (CRSPs). According to USAID, “by empowering women farmers with the same access to land, new technologies and capital as men, we can increase crop yields by as much as 30 percent and feed an additional 150 million people”.

3) Support worker advocacy organizations. Research can be a useful tool to examine risks associated with the agricultural industry and how to mitigate them in the future, thus ensuring that vulnerable workers do not risk losing their livelihoods. Agriculture is one of the most dangerous industries to work in due to hazardous machinery, livestock, extreme weather conditions, dehydration, and exposure to pesticides.

In China there are an estimated 225 million agricultural workers, but farms are increasingly worked by the youngest and oldest residents of rural communities, as many middle-aged wage workers seek employment in cities. Injuries are abundant due to use of heavy machinery, and result in millions of deaths and disabilities among farmworkers each year. A collaborative research project  between the Colorado Injury Control Research Center, the Center for Injury Research and Policy at The Ohio State University, and the Tongji Injury Control Research Center was undertaken between Chinese and American researchers to find solutions to reduce agriculturally related injuries in China. The program has trained over 80 researchers, published studies on agricultural injuries, and opened a center for injury prevention in China. The project aims to provide insights on how to train agricultural workers to safely handle new machinery to avoid future injuries and deaths.

Consumers can make a positive contribution towards the health care of farmworkers in the United States through non-profit organizations such as the National Center for Farmworker Health (NCFH). The organization is dedicated to improving worker health in the United States by providing services like resources for migrants, training programs, and education and policy analysis. The public can get involved through NCFH’s Gift of Health program, which accepts donations that are invested in promoting the health of America’s farmworkers.

4) Get involved and be aware—locally and globally. Local initiatives that invest in the well-being of vulnerable communities can effectively help change the conditions of agricultural workers. Farmworkers are often described as hidden people, usually subjected to impoverished living conditions, with limited access to basic services like water and electricity.

South Africa’s wine and fruit industry alone generates US $3 billion a year for the South African economy. Yet, according to a Human Rights Watch report, farmworkers benefit very little from the profits, and are often forced to live in substandard housing. Solms-Delta is an example of a South African wine estate that has established its own initiative, the Wijn de Caap Trust, to break the cycle of poverty among farmworkers on the Solms-Delta estate. The trust receives 33 percent of profits from the estate’s wine sales, which aims to improve the lives of farmworkers by providing quality housing, investing in education facilities for children, and providing medical care to families.

Consumers in the United States can also become directly involved in community farming enterprises by volunteering or working at local farmers’ markets, participating in volunteer days at nearby farms, or even apprenticing on a farm for a season. Visit https://attra.ncat.org/attra-pub/internships/ to learn more about on-farm opportunities in the United States and Canada.

5) Promote universal education. Education can be used from a grassroots level to dispel ignorance and empower local communities. Agricultural workers often migrate in search of seasonal or temporary work, and can be unaware of their rights due to poor education, isolation within rural areas, and fragmented organization. Education programs can also help inform consumers on ethical considerations of food production, and educate young leaders on policy formulation and advocacy.

Student Action with Farmworkers (SAF) is an innovative nonprofit organization, which uses popular education to raise awareness of issues around farmworker conditions in local U.S. communities. SAF works with farmworkers, students and advocates alike, and has provided support to over 80,000 farmworkers to gain access to health, legal, and education facilities.

6) Vote with your dollar. Consumers can choose products produced in environmentally friendly and socially responsible ways. By purchasing products that are not linked to the exploitation of agricultural laborers, it sends the message to agricultural employers that consumers do not support abusive labor conditions, and that they are willing to pay an often-higher price for ethically produced goods. This helps ensure that workers are paid fairly and do not work under poor conditions.

Fair Trade USA is an international movement that allows customers to buy products from all over the world that support poverty-reduction projects, relieve exploitation, and endorse environmental sustainability.  The Fair Trade standards enable agricultural workers to work in safe and inclusive environments, follow economic trade contracts with fair pricing, improve their own living conditions, and avoid child labor. There is growing demand from consumers for socially responsible food production; North America will soon implement its own Food Justice label. This label will also help lift American workers out of poverty by guaranteeing fair wages, adequate living conditions, and reasonable contracts.

Agriculture will not be viable while the vast majority of its workforce lives in poverty around the world, and innovative measures to break this cycle of poverty, along with your contributions, are crucial to fostering a healthier food system.

Do you know of any innovative projects that are assisting impoverished agricultural workers? Let us know in the comments below!

Catherine Ward 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.

Aug24

From a Garden in South Africa, to a Cafeteria in California: Sharing Meals and Good Ideas

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By Molly Theobald

Usually a conversation about world hunger conjures images of starving children in Africa. But while sub-Saharan Africa may be the epicenter of world hunger, the U.S. has a lot to learn from the agricultural practices in use there.

Right now there are countless organizations working on the ground to improve access to food, increase incomes, and provide nutritional education. And their successes hold lessons that we can benefit from right here at home.

Abalimi Bezekhaya is helping to end hunger in Cape Town, South Africa (Photo Credit: Marie Viljoen)

The organization Abalimi Bezekhaya, for example, a non-profit organization working in the informal settlements outside Cape Town, South Africa, is just one of many organizations that has found its own way to reduce local hunger in Africa.  Abalimi Bezekhaya is helping to turn the settlements into areas that produce food—and money—which in turn generates green spaces in order to alleviate poverty and protect the fragile surrounding ecosystem.  Providing training and materials, Abalimi Bezekhaya helps people to turn school yards and empty plots of land into gardens. Each garden is run by 6 to 8 farmers who, with support and time, are soon able to produce enough food to feed their families.

But while Abalimi Bezekhaya is bringing agriculture and food into the townships, it is also helping the townships to bring fresh produce into the city. With support from the Ackerman Pick n’ Pay Foundation, and in partnership with the South African Institute of Entrepreneurship (SAIE) and the Business Place Philippi, Abalimi Bezekhaya founded Harvest of Hope (HoH) in 2008. HoH purchases the surplus crops from 14 groups of farmers working in Abalimi Bezekhaya’s community plots, packages them in boxes and delivers them to selected schools where parents can purchase them to take home.

For families in Cape Town, HoH means fresh vegetables instead of the older, and often imported, produce at the grocery store. And for families of the farmers working with Hope of Harvest, it means a source of food, income, and improved quality of life.

There are similar projects in the Bay Area of the United States. Since 2001, for example, the Community Alliance with Family Farmers (CAFF) has been helping to coordinate relationships between school cafeterias and local food producers. These relationships bring nutritious meals to students who might not otherwise be able to afford them, and provide a consistent source of income for local small-scale farmers who are struggling to make a living in the face of a national agricultural system that increasingly favors large, industrial farming operations. The Veggielution Community Farm is working with volunteers and youth to create a more sustainable food system in the Santa Clara Valley and in East San Jose.

Other cities are taking notice. In Washington, D.C., for example, the local farm to school program spent almost a year looking at programs all over the United States, including those in Portland, Oregon and others on the West Coast, as models to follow.  “There are so many people and organizations involved that it takes a lot of care and trial runs and screwing up to develop a successful farm to school program,” said Andrea Northrup, the Program Coordinator for the Farm to School Network in DC. “But it’s so valuable for the students, the farmers, and the entire community that we really wanted to get it right. So we looked to other cities and other programs for guidance.”

The DC program has learned valuable lessons and experienced success. Founded in 2008, it has already held a Farm to School Week in order to introduce farmers to schools and parents, and students to local food producers. This year the Farm to School Week plans to engage all 123 city public schools and all 70 charter schools and has plans for a more permanent program that would bring 60,000 meals containing fresh produce to the DC public school system every day during the school year.

In Cape Town, Washington, D.C., California, and all over the United States, successful programs are working on the ground to alleviate global hunger and poverty, improve livelihoods, and teach children healthy eating habits. Instead of viewing world hunger as a distant problem with no solution, we should pay attention to those fighting it all over the world. We just might learn a thing or two.

Molly Theobald is a Food and Agriculture research fellow at the Worldwatch Institute.

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

Aug24

Innovations to Make School Food Healthier in London

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Check out our latest op-ed published in the London Free Press of Ontario, Canada. The op-ed discusses school food programs in the area that are helping to improve child health and nutrition.

Unequal access to healthy foods is a serious issue in London—obesity disproportionately impacts poor families who can afford only cheap, processed foods. Thankfully, a number of organizations, like London Food Bank and Community Harvest Ontario, are helping low-income children gain access to healthy foods.

Click here to read the full article.

Aug21

The Hunger Shames: Schools Can Set Children on Lifetime Path of Healthy Eating

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Check out our latest op-ed about school meals and student health, published in The Journal Gazette of Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Indiana gets a bad grade for childhood obesity and malnutrition. In 2011, 15 percent of Indiana high school students were considered obese, meaning their body mass index was at or above the 95th percentile. Fortunately, schools can play a key role to reverse this trend and reinforce healthy eating behaviors. By emphasizing hands-on nutrition education, such as school garden projects and classroom cooking demonstrations, and by providing fresh, local fruits and vegetables in cafeterias, schools can encourage students to improve their diets.

Read the full article here.

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

Aug20

At Back-to-School Time, Let’s Press for Healthy Eating

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Check out our latest op-ed about improving school meals and students’ eating habits, published in The Montreal Gazette. The Gazette is the largest English language daily in the province of Quebec, and has a weekly print circulation of 1,094,653.

It’s almost time for kids to go back to school. But for many children in Montreal, this means a return to unhealthy school lunches that jeopardize their health and well-being. Schools can play a key role in reversing this trend and reinforcing healthy eating behaviors.

Read the full article here.

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

Aug15

New Evidence Shows That School Food Policy Matters When It Comes to Kids’ Health

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By Ioulia Fenton

Childhood obesity has reached epidemic proportions in the United States. According to the 2011 F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens Americas’ Future report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Trust for America’s Health, nearly one-third of all American kids ages 10 to 17 are either obese or overweight. This puts them at risk of more than 20 major diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

Typical competitive foods available in schools include highly processed snacks and drinks (Photo Credit: Health.com)

One proposed way of dealing with this phenomenon is through state and national level legislation to regulate the type of foods available at schools. This is done in two ways. The first is to set nutritional standards for school meals provided free of charge or at reduced prices by the government. The other is to also set standards for and limit the availability of competitive foods—foods sold outside of federal meal programs, such as snacks and soft drinks.

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