Young students learn about food security in their own community

Led by a creative teacher who's willing to think outside the box, a grade 2/3 class in Ontario has embarked on a wonderful exploration into the complex and often unjust world of food production and distribution.

When Jennifer Kranenburg, a teacher from Chatham, Ontario, began talking to her grade 2/3 class about nutrition and food security, she never dreamed the conversation would take on a life of its own. It soon became apparent that food security was a very personal issue for some of the kids in her class whose own families relied on the local food bank for assistance. Many students expressed the desire to help, although they didn’t know how to go about it.

Kranenburg follows a pedagogic approach called “Challenge Based Learning” that encourages kids to use everyday technology to solve social problems. She had been looking for a real world issue in which to engage her students. The conversation about food banks revealed that this was, indeed, their own real world issue. She told TreeHugger via email:

“I decided we had to do something. I wanted to empower them, as well as make them realize, that they can create change in their own lives."

The class has since embarked on a fascinating exploration of the complex and often unjust world of food production and distribution. They watched videos on YouTube such as Chipotle’s “The Scarecrow,” which led to a discussion about preservatives and hormones in food.

They conducted an experiment comparing a McDonald’s breakfast to the one available through the school’s free-to-all breakfast program. After a week the Egg McMuffin and hash brown had hardly changed, whereas the whole-wheat toast and fruit provided by the school had begun to rot and attract fruit flies. It was a good lesson in learning how ‘real’ food should deteriorate and look.

Kranenburg’s class embraced the issue of food waste after watching French supermarket chain Intermarché’s video about its hugely successful “Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables” campaign, and have followed the recent launch of Loblaw’s similar line of “Naturally Imperfect” produce here in Ontario. The students have been using ugly fruits and vegetables for creative inspiration – writing stories starring the unattractive produce as main characters and recreating them in papier-mâché.

The classroom lessons have spilled over to the local food bank, where students visited to learn more about the distribution system, whether users have access to fresh produce, and where and how it’s grown. They painted artwork to decorate the walls and make it a more welcoming space. Currently they’re working with a local organic greenhouse to grow more fresh produce for the food bank. If Kranenburg’s dream comes true, they’ll even have their own greenhouse next year to explore further the world of sustainable, local food production.

It’s wonderful to see how this class has embraced the social issues that exist in their own community, and how a single teacher has managed to incorporate these extremely important lessons about food security and waste into the public school curriculum. These are topics that need to be discussed more loudly and publicly than ever, and there’s no better place to start than with young children, many of whom experience these difficult issues firsthand.

Kranenburg’s work has led her to co-publish an iBook about using Challenge Based Learning to address community issues (available for free download here), and she will be giving a TEDx talk at the end of this month about her classroom’s unusual educational journey.

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