With the smell of fresh rosemary and the clucking of chickens in the background, food experts Alice Waters and Joel Salatin shared their vision for eating well to the Kitchen Sisters, at Charlottesville’s historic Paramount Theater. As part of the National Endowment for the Humanities 50th anniversary, the event “Farming the Earth, Cultivating Humanity” made bold claims about the place of the table as the center of aesthetic life. But that was just the beginning.
Waters repeatedly called for an Edible Education and urged the audience to join the
Edible Schoolyard Project, which “envisions gardens and kitchens as interactive classrooms for all academic subjects and a free, delicious, organic, and local lunch for every student.”
This ambitious plan seeks to transform public education as well as agriculture in the U.S. by building a tight connection between schools and farms–the idea is to invest in local farms by sourcing public school meals from sustainable, organic producers. Guaranteeing a market for local farmers and food producers would reinvigorate local economies.
The plan would radically change public education and our civic life, as well. We know the statistics–kids who are well-nourished perform better in school. Moreover, the majority of children in U.S. public schools are in poverty.
This means they are food insecure. Often, the free breakfast or free lunch they get at school is the only meal they get.
Also, the majority of children in U.S. public schools are ethnic minorities.
And this is the sticking point: funding this education program will require creativity because of the way states currently finance schools. Property taxes are used to fund public education and so those places with higher wealth have better supported schools. And wealth in the United States is still distributed along the racial lines.
Political scientists and sociologists have found that racial attitudes impact public support for social spending. What this means is that, for many white Americans, the more that they perceive that social spending benefits minority groups, the less they are inclined to support social spending. The question is, are we willing to invest so that all of our kids in public school have access to healthy meals and so that farmers in lower income areas benefit from a program like this?
One of the reasons negative attitudes towards race persist is the notion that our fates are separate from one another or that life is a zero-sum game. But by connecting public education to a strong value for farming and local agriculture, the Edible Schoolyard Project shows us, yet again, how connected we are.