For most Americans, knowing where your food comes from, getting to choose what you eat, and owning land to grow food on are opportunities historically only afforded to a privileged few. For many families in Seattle, poverty and its root causes are large barriers to accessing healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate food.
To support the health and well-being of kids in communities experiencing poverty, Solid Ground’s Community Food Education program provides food and garden education with an anti-oppressions focus to youth throughout the city of Seattle.
Food education is an important part of the work of undoing oppressions caused by structural racism and white privilege in the food system. This is particularly true for children, who hold limited power when it comes to making decisions about what they eat. Whether it’s homemade sack lunches or school lunches, dinner from the dollar menu or gramma’s kitchen, Sunday brunches or take-home backpack meals, adults and institutions do a lot of the decision making.
Because of this, as a youth educator, I find food to be a particularly impactful tool in developing identities as change agents in the world. In our classroom, food is something we all participate in. Each lesson is an opportunity to share skills and experiences that encourage positive relationships to food and critical thinking regarding food systems.
For example, one of our Farm to Table lessons, Rainbow Washington, is about the rainbow of fruits and vegetables that farmers grow in Washington state, and how their food gets to us. Together with kindergarteners and first graders, we read a book about Pike Place Market called A Day at the Market by Sara Anderson, and discuss all the people who make a fresh market so valuable for a community:
- We get to meet the people who grow, harvest, and catch our food – and thank them: “Let’s say it together! ‘Thank you, farmers! Thank you, fishers!’”
- Farmers get to travel shorter distances, which emits less pollution, and make connections with their customers: “Thank you, buyers!”
- The folks who clean up at the end of the day keep the market clean and fresh for everyone to shop the next day: “Thank you, sweeper! Thank you garbage truck driver!”
After we read the book, we eat a fruit salad made with apples, blackberries, and mint – all Washington crops. The young chefs learn how to chop fruit safely, serve their peers equal portions, and garnish their salad with mint.
With third graders, this lesson is adapted to discuss who food growers are. We draw a picture of what students think a farmer looks like (often a white male with a pitchfork standing next to a cow), investigate those stereotypes, and broaden the definition of farmer to include a variety of food growers, such as students’ parents, neighbors, and teachers.
We follow that lesson up with one that introduces students to the parts of a plant so that they can expand knowledge of growing food which, in turn, can help them grow food themselves, if they choose to one day.
At Solid Ground, we know that an analysis of the roles race and poverty play in food systems is essential to any substantial effort towards an equitable, sustainable, and just food system, so we work and rework lessons to engage youth in critical thinking about food systems.
Ultimately, what does that anti-oppressions focus bring to food and garden youth education? It empowers youth to insist on a future in which our food system serves everyone. The resulting insights not only inform the lessons we teach, but are the foundation for positive change individually and within communities. In the spirit of our Rainbow Washington lesson we say: “Thank you, Seattle youth!”