According to Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative to get kids eating healthier, kids eat “nearly half of their daily calories at school.” For many kids, especially in the city, that means processed cafeteria food is sometimes the only regular meal they eat. But urban farms like the Farmessori at Chicago’s Near North Montessori School are about to change that forever. This city school’s brand new farm is their latest addition to their mission to teach kids about agriculture, nutrition, and living in harmony with the earth in a hands-on way. Hooked yet? I certainly am, but I’m biased – I attended the school for 11 whole years.
The Farmessori isn’t NNM’s first effort to bring farming to the students’ lives. As a junior high student at the school, I used to volunteer at City Farm just down the street every Wednesday as part of our science curriculum. That was the first time I had heard about composting and the like, but I don’t think I really grasped the benefits of growing your own food til now, five years after graduating. This new Farmessori is taking food education at NNM to a whole new level. By working on the farm as part of their justice and sustainability curriculum, the students will be able to take part in the entire cycle of growing – everything from preparing the soil, to planting the seeds, to tending the garden, to harvesting, cooking, and eventually eating the produce. Part of the harvest goes into the school’s Sandwich Shop program, which has been around ever since I can remember. The junior high students run a business of cooking, preparing, and selling the meals for students and staff to raise money for their annual trip to Washington D.C., the very place where Michelle Obama conjures up ways to get kids involved in healthy eating. If that isn’t full circle, then I don’t know what is.
After a whole summer of visiting farms that put a strong emphasis on children’s education, I know that the Farmessori isn’t the only school farm out there. Check out the National Farm to School Network – an initiative to help bring healthy produce and environmental education to the classroom. It’s part of a national effort to get kids connected to their food. I think Chicago is a microcosm of this trend – if you really pay attention, you’ll see kids farming all over the place! Loud Grade Produce Squad teaches at elementary schools, Kilbourn Park has a dedicated children’s garden, the Green Youth Farm pays kids to farm, and a new Montessori school opening up in Englewood has forged a partnership with Growing Home. Families and kids alike can join this movement. Ask your local school to open a farm – or volunteer at one nearby. You may get something out of it yourself – families and students at NNM can volunteer at the Farmessori in exchange for a monthly CSA box. Let’s see. Your family gets veggies, your kids get an education, what have you got to lose? Besides cafeteria food…
Cheers to kid-grown goodies and farm fresh fun!