By Robert Turner
We had some fourth-graders from a local elementary school in Asheville scheduled for a farm tour, which gave me the perfect opportunity to test their knowledge and mess with their heads.
Before they arrived at the farm, I pulled some carrots from the garden and tied them by their green tops to a young maple tree growing near the vegetable garden. As part of our tour, which was like herding cats and much harder than cattle, we walked over and I showed them ‘the carrot tree’. No one questioned it. It makes perfect sense to a little kid that a carrot could grow on a tree, like an apple. Why not?
We eventually walked over to a row of carrots in the garden and I pulled one out of the ground and let them in on the gag, but I don’t think pulling a carrot out of the dirt made it any more appealing to them. A few of the kids scrunched up their noses and were a bit concerned that food came out of the dirt like that. I think they preferred food from trees because it was cleaner, and they like trees. My generation, of course, had the benefit of watching Bugs Bunny cartoons on TV, and we saw Bugs Bunny pulling carrots out of the ground just as fast as Elmer Fudd could plant them. Kwazy wabbit.
A nutritionist friend often meets with school groups about healthy food and where it comes from, and she usually brings vegetables with her for the talk. She says that a lot of kids at all age levels, even into middle school, have difficulty identifying common vegetables. She’ll hold up a tomato, and ask, ‘what is the name of this vegetable?’ Even in rural farming communities, kids have a hard time answering that question. We’re all a little disconnected from our food these days.
The grow local and farm to table movement has exploded, changing our food choices and affecting our food culture. Most importantly, it’s adding another revenue stream for farmers that can grow a few varieties of vegetables and distribute them locally. As health care costs continue to rise and people become more aware of the importance of eating healthy food, the local food movement will continue to grow. There are now close to 9,000 farmers markets operating in the US.
The CDC recently reported (August, 2018) that 20 percent of our kids are now considered clinically obese, with 40 percent of adolescents overweight, which is leading to a rapid rise in diabetes and other health problems. This is the first time in history that we can predict that a younger generation will have a shorter life span than its parents. We need to do a better job at educating our kids about healthy food, what it looks like, and where it comes from. Every kid should visit a farm at least once as part of a school tour.
In the local food production and distribution model, whether that is a farmer’s market or a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, the community and farmers freely tie their fates together. The community supports the farmer’s financial needs and the farmer, in turn, takes care of the land and feeds the community. The health of the community and the health of the land become woven together and bound in a new food web that benefits both and improves both. It becomes a sustainable food economy where farming and community health becomes everyone’s responsibility.
Robert Turner is director of the Creekside Farm Education Center and the author of Carrots Don’t Grow on Trees (February 2019). To learn more, visit EatYourView.com.