Where your food comes from
By the time food travels from the farm to the supermarket to the dinner table, it is often untraceable to its original form. The bright orange powder found in boxes of macaroni and cheese bears little resemblance to the real thing. But for children to become interested in their food, they must understand where it comes from and go back to its origins—the farm.
Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture is 30 miles north of New York City, in Pocantico Hills, N.Y. It combines farming, cooking and sustainable education to teach children about the connection between farm and table. As part of its mission, Stone Barns demonstrates how eating not only affects health, but the community and environment as well.
Judy Fink, education programs director at Stone Barns, teaches children how to become active participants in the food-growing process. Since May 2004, Fink and her team have worked with more than 6,000 children in seasonal programs and camps, teaching them how to collect eggs, plant and harvest potatoes and move a herd of sheep.
“The food part is important, but it is as important for kids to get outside and get their hands dirty,” Fink said.
Many children in the city don't have the resources or opportunities for an alternative farming experience. For them, making a farm-to-table connection is much more difficult. But there is a growing urban gardening movement in New York that's helping students learn about food in its natural form.
Programs like East New York Farms! and Added Value provide city children with the opportunity to work on farms in south and east Brooklyn. If they see the labor that goes into harvesting a tomato, they are more likely to appreciate its value when it shows up in a salad bar or grocery store.
"They're exposed to a wider variety of fruits and vegetables. They're growing the food, so they have much more of an interest in trying it and learning how to cook with it,"said David Vigil, the farm manager at East New York Farms!.
There are also plenty of options for families who want to grow food in their own apartments. Dr. Dickson Despommier, director of The Vertical Farm Project, recommends window farming through the use of hydroponics, in which plants absorb nutrients dissolved in water, without soil.
“It's something people can do in their apartments. Hydroponic farming is easy to do and it's not expensive,” Despommier said. Children can buy a fruit or vegetable and nutrient packets at a nursery or hardware store, place the plant in a bowl filled with water, dissolve the nutrients in that water, and leave the plant by a windowsill to absorb sunlight.