Our schools are where our children are molded into becoming bright and healthy citizens of our future. Therefore, at a time when obesity is skyrocketing for all, the best place to stop this cycle is in our school systems. Children need to be able to distinguish foods that are good for them from those that have dire health risks. By connecting school districts with their local farms, we can make it easier for information about food to reach children. In addition, by including organic and locally grown fruits and vegetables in the school’s daily menu, farms in each state can begin to prosper. Today, “more than 38 million kids get their lunches through the National School Lunch Program, and with more than a third of the nation's youngsters overweight or obese, the cafeteria has become a battleground,” (NPR.org).
Programs that “encourage healthy eating for children at home and at school will work better if the administration de-incentivizes the use of processed foods instead of merely giving schools money to buy locally” (Potts). Several programs to educate and encourage children to eat organic have already been introduced in schools throughout the years. Edible Schoolyard, for example, “provides urban public school students with a one-acre organic garden and a kitchen classroom” (Organic.org). By being actively involved in growing fruits and vegetables, students not only become excited to eat what they grew but teachers can also use science and math to teach them about the developing process.
One of the most popular initiatives to incorporate organic eating in schools was seen in the Chicago Public Schools Organic Food Pilot Program in 2011. With the help of Jamie Oliver, who jumpstarted Britain’s road to healthier schools, Academy for Global Citizenship, “was the first school in the Midwest to receive the USDA's Healthier US School Challenge Gold with Distinction Award, in conjunction with First Lady Michelle Obama's Let's Move initiative” (Ippel). These types of programs are even more important in urban neighborhoods such as Chicago and Detroit because many of the children in these school districts will otherwise be unable to receive organic food in their household, due to its high cost and the large consumption of processed foods by the lower class.
The biggest concern with such programs is their longevity. It can be expensive for a school district to afford the additional food and labor costs of an organic menu. One way to decrease costs is to “eliminate dessert from the menu”, which can make “offering students organic lunches an affordable option” (Organic.org). In addition, local farms can partner with schools to make it easier for school lunches to have these healthy ingredients, while increasing their number of consumers. In California, for example, schools have partnered with a rice producer who has planted an entire field of rice for the schools” (NPR.org) that are being served. Michigan can take similar steps to help school districts, such as ones in Genesee County, which was ranked the least healthiest in the state, have better lunch options (AlHajal). Michigan’s least healthiest counties were seen in central areas of the state, meaning that they are largely in the populated cities as well as urban school districts, where many students come from lower class families. The correlation between health and class can explain why it is important to help urban schools teach children the importance of organic foods because they will not get this information at home.
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 66.1% of Michigan adults were overweight and 16.3% of adolescence (CDC.gov). The large number for adults echoes the importance for schools to teach students information about healthy foods not only for them to use in school, but to have as life lessons to remember throughout their adulthood. By planting gardens with fresh fruits and vegetables and partnering with local farms to incorporate organic food to a school’s menu, Michigan school can be the next leader in a healthier America.
AlHajal, Khalil. “Study Ranks Genesee County Among the Least Healthiest Counties in the State.” MLive.com. 30 March 2011. MLive. 31 July 2013. http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2011/03/study_ranks_genesee_county_am o.html
Potts, Monica. “Organic Solutions.” Prospect.org. 14 June 2010. The American Prospect. 31 July 2013. http://prospect.org/article/organic-solutions-0
“Healthier School Lunches May Leave Kids Hungry.” NPR.org. 27 Sept. 2012. National Public Radio. 31 July 2013 http://www.npr.org/2012/09/27/161894994/healthier-school-lunches-may-leave-kids- hungry
“Making School Lunches Organic.” Organic.org. 2013. Organic.org. 31 July 2013. http://www.organic.org/articles/showarticle/article-221
“Michigan’s Response to Obesity.” CDC.gov. 19 Oct. 2012. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 31 July 2013. http://www.cdc.gov/obesity/stateprograms/fundedstates/michigan.html.