A Storey author meets a new generation of students who see food advocacy as part of preparing for the future.

Teachers Jonah Maidoff, Louis Hall and, Anna Cotton together with Rep. Tim Madden (far back) with Martha’s Vineyard high school students at the State House, Boston, MA, May 6, 2015, for the state’s first Farm to School Day (Photo courtesy of Noli Taylor)

When I was a junior in high school, I spent my time running, jumping, and hurdling for the Madison West High track team, wondering about the identity of the secret admirer who sent me carnations, and talking on the phone with friends.

I was not going to the state capital to meet with my state representatives and to engage the political system in support of healthy school food, agricultural education in the classroom, and school food gardens. No, that wasn’t me in high school. It would never have even crossed my mind to do such a thing.

But two weeks ago, I had the honor of accompanying a group of politically engaged students from the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School and the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School to the Massachusetts State House in Boston. They were there for the Commonwealth’s first ever Farm to School Day, to do the very things I never would have thought to do at their age.

The day was co-sponsored by a group of nonprofits that came together to advocate as a collective, stronger-than-one voice. Other supporting organizations and agencies (School Sprouts, City Sprouts, Sustainable Cape, The Quabbin Composting and Organic Gardening Program, and the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education among them), traveled from across the state to join in the day as students attended a briefing with legislators to learn more about farm to school initiatives and current legislation. Students then fanned out to meet with their elected officials to discuss farm to school efforts in their region and across Massachusetts.

Martha’s Vineyard, my community in Massachusetts, is fortunate to have a farm to school organization called Island Grown Schools, which has worked with public charter school students on the island and with State Representative Tim Madden to draft legislation that supports farm to school efforts statewide. With the draft complete, students are now working to build a network among their peers and raise awareness of farm to school programs among legislators.

At Farm to School Day, Martha’s Vineyard students Astrid Tilton and Bella Maidoff, along with Island Grown School’s Coordinator Noli Taylor, met with Representative Jen Benson to discuss her House Bill 3221, An Act Relative to Healthy Eating in School Cafeterias.

Martha’s Vineyard student Astrid Tilton speaks at Farm to School Day.

To some, the act of planting a school garden may seem quaint or charming but not really relevant to the educational process. Some may view it as extracurricular, peripheral, or worse — a distraction from “teaching to the tests.” (How many times will we hear, “Who’s going to take care of it in the summer?” as an argument not to start digging? See pages 35 and 36 of The Food Activist Handbook to put that argument to bed.)

But ask a student like Astrid or Bella what motivates them to get involved in the politics of farm to school work or working in their school garden and you may hear what I heard: that fresh, healthy school food makes them feel better. It tastes better, and the farm to school program, school gardens, and food education have helped them better understand nutrition, agriculture, and local economies. It’s even inspired them to learn how to cook. How cool is that?

How did these students become so involved? As the “adult in the room,” looking from the outside in, I can see clearly that they do it with help from their mentors, teachers, and support from their schools. They are hope transformed into action.

Jamie Oliver’s hugely successful Food Revolution Day may be over, but I’m encouraging all of us to continue the movement to empower children to make healthy choices around food and to do what we can to make every day a Food Revolution Day. Here are some ways you can follow the lead of Astrid, Bella, and the inspiring students from Martha’s Vineyard, no matter where you are:

  1. Sign Jamie Oliver’s international petition for compulsory practical food education.
  2. Learn about the benefits of farm to school programming and share this information widely.
  3. Connect with a Farm to School program in your state.
  4. Start a Farm to School Day where you. Use the Massachusetts Farm to School Project’s “Farm to School Day Guide” (with tips on how to schedule a meeting with your legislator) and adapt it to your location.
  5. Show your support for the Farm to School Act of 2015.

Ali Berlow

Ali Berlow is the author of The Food Activist Handbook and The Mobile Poultry Slaughterhouse, and the co-owner of Edible Vineyard magazine. Berlow founded and served as the… See Bio

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