School Gardens and Community Gardens are Essential Infrastructure

The Mount Kisco Elementary School Garden donated over 200 pounds of fresh vegetables to local food pantries this summer

Climate change is here to stay, its not going away. And while many of the focus is on fancy new electric cars, there is something way more fundamental that affects every one of us: our food. Scientists tell us we don’t have much time left to turn things around. They know that multi bread basket failures will be a feature of the years ahead as our climate emergency escalates.

As the fires in California increase and the water needed to maintain crops decreases, we need to rethink the 30% of our vegetables that travel thousands of miles from west coast farms. Extreme weather events all over the US and the rest of the world play havoc on our food security. The most important thing we can be doing right now is to relocalize and decentralize our food system.

We can utilize school gardens and community gardens to relocalize our food and take a bite out of climate change. While many school districts fund expensive and toxic turf fields for football programs, school gardens end up being funded by well meaning and hard working parent groups. We need to flip this dynamic. School gardens are outdoor learning spaces that offer STEM filled project based learning that emphasizes collaboration instead of competition. They should be generously funded and fully integrated into the entire K-12 curriculum

Congressman Jamal Bowman (CD16, NY), a former middle school principal, has introduced some innovative legislation that will address the climate crisis and reduce inequities within the public school system. This bill, called the Green New Deal for Public Schools, includes school and community gardens as part of vital infrastructure.

Its time to rethink our priorities as both Covid 19 and climate change become wake up calls to what is really important. Things will not be getting “back to normal” anytime in the near or distant future. School gardens and community gardens should be part of the renaissance of that better world that our hearts know is possible.

Our current food system is not fair when it comes to vegetables. They are considered “specialty crops” and get no subsidies from Farm Bill legislation. This giant piece of federal legislation is the reason why a Happy Meal™ is cheaper than a healthy one. Corn, soy and even sugar get help from the federal government, veggies are on their own. Low income areas are food deserts, fresh veggies are hard to find. Both school and community gardens can help decrease food apartheid.

Edible Schoolyard

Every health professional agrees that our kids would benefit from eating more fresh fruits and vegetables. Edible Schoolyard founder Alice Waters is known for saying, ‘when kids grow food, they eat it”.

I have witnessed this with my own eyes as a food and garden educator for the past 18 years. Kids grow veggies, they fall in love with veggies. My previous career as a dentist showed me the damage that junk food and sugar sweetened processed food can do to a child’s mouth. It was not fun. We can work to stop the corruption of our kids taste buds by the food industry with freshly grown hyper local veggies. Growing veggies is a form of preventative dentistry in my book.

What can you do to help the Green New Deal for public schools become a reality? Contact your representative in Congress and insist that they become a co-sponsor of the bill.

Food and environmentally focused health professional, filmmaker, educator, master composter and activist. Veggie gardens are the answer, what's your question?