Today, rather than add to my 42 draft blog posts that I have yet to finish, I am going to tell you what happened at lunch at our house over the noon hour and not just leave it to myself in a drafts folder.
This happened. Look at the below picture.
A jar of relish on my counter. A husband and son eating a lunch together. It might not be much to you. But it represents why agriculture and food education matters and makes a positive difference for kids.
But where did the jar of relish come from you ask? How did it end up on my kitchen counter at 12:10 p.m on a Wednesday? It wasn’t made by me and a friend didn’t drop it off.
The relish was made by our son, Hunter, in school and he brought it home for lunch.
Hunter, is a junior in high school and doesn’t eat at school most days. He needs over 5,000 calories a day to maintain his weight from his active life and nearly 6’6″ size frame. We are a short drive home for him from school. Any day I am home I have a meal ready for Hunter and my husband, Nathan. On game days, Fridays in the fall for football, my mother-in-law, fondly called Nana by our kids, makes a huge meat and potato meal. Between Nana and me, we make sure Hunter is fed. It isn’t the norm for most kids and we know Hunter is a lucky kid.
Hunter just can’t get enough calories in school with the restrictions put on protein, dairy and grains in the federal school lunch program. Unfortunately he also cannot buy extra food at school due to the calorie caps, 850 calories per day put on his age group in school.
It is not our school’s fault. It is a federal regulatory burden that ties our schools’ hands, threatening if they don’t follow the “system” created they lose federal education funding, key funding for teacher positions and educational programs that our rural school relies on.
While there are many problems with the current federal school lunch program that impacts all American children in public schools, it is difficult to offer solutions to how we can fix it.
That’s where the relish comes in today. Relish is a school lunch solution? Yes. Food and Agriculture education is a part of the change needed I believe.
Hunter brought home the Zucchini Relish at lunch time and explained how he had made it, in agriculture class. I asked him how he made it. With peppers, onions and zucchini from their FFA school garden and adding sugar, he said and it’s “better than regular garden salsa even…I’ll give you the recipe.”
My 17-year old son has a recipe to share with me, his mother. This is a first for us and a rare moment for a majority of teenagers I believe.
“Plus we have this Zucchini Relish and Jalapeno Jelly for sale. Do you want to buy some?”
Yes, yes, of course I want to buy foods my son is learning to grow and prepare in school.
I remember my farmer friend Annie sharing her School Lunch Soapbox, How to Fix the Problem Without Food, a couple of years ago on her blog. Annie is a former high school science teacher and shared about the need for kids to have home economics and agriculture curriculum reinstated as required classes.
Home economics in modern-day school speak is now called Family and Consumer Sciences and at its core it is still where kids learn about foods and food preparation, vital I believe for kids to know in order to make healthy food choices as adults.
In addition to Family and Consumer Sciences, our rural North Dakota school offers a strong agriculture education program and it is then connected to our FFA program. I have shared before Why FFA is Relevant For Our Future. It is the program that has had the greatest impact on Hunter’s junior high and high school years, bigger than any sports win or loss.
Agriculture and Family and Consumer Sciences are vital to our future. Our kids need to learn about food, where food comes from, how to make healthy food choices and how to prepare food. It is not happening at home for most like it used to one or two generations ago. It is not happening in our school cafeterias.
But it is happening in some school curriculums.
I have heard the argument kids don’t have time for these type of classes. I disagree.
Hunter is taking Botany/ Horticulture this year as his agriculture class,which is required to be a FFA member. It’s a science elective which is he taking in addition to Physics as a core science class. He is also in English, Speech, Advanced Math, U.S History, Band and Choir. He takes piano lessons on Tuesdays. Kids can excel in math, science and the arts and still have time for food and agriculture. After all, food and agriculture is comprised of science and math.
Hunter’s Botany/ Horticulture class is not like the “Short Cut Cooking” class I took in high school, where I learned to make eggs in the microwave and absolutely took it for an easy “A” my senior year. This is science and agriculture based and then there is a partnership with the family and consumer sciences teacher and program. This fall, kids enrolled in these classes are learning to grow foods, the science behind the foods and then to create foods and process them, like canning relish and jelly.
Will every child go home and choose to prepare and eat zucchini relish over their meat? No. I don’t live in a local and fresh food utopia. Hunter asked for chips to go along with his fresh relish today. Kids will still choose junk food from time to time. But school education about food and agriculture, teaching kids how to grow food, where food comes from and food choices, empowers them to make their own healthy choices.
Rather than smothering them in federal food regulations, limiting their food and calorie intakes and somehow thinking that will change childhood obesity, work with your schools and administration to jump-start food and agriculture education. Here’s a step-by-step guide on starting an agriculture education and FFA program in your school.
If you already have a program like Hunter is a part of, thank the school and teachers today! They are helping create change at a local level to connect kids to food and will positively impact the future of our kids’ health and choices.
Does your school offer agriculture and/or food education programs? What are the opportunities you see to grow the programs within schools?
Timing falls into place sometimes. Thursday September 25, 2014 is National Teach Ag Day! I didn’t know that when I wrote this but I am so glad I found out. I will be sharing about #TeachAg and #Tagged14 (the effort’s hash tag) on my Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts. You can share about #TeachAg #Tagged14 yourself and empower a next generation of agriculture teachers!
Jean Santjer says
My daughter is a 7th grader and required to have Ag the first part of the year and Shop the second. We farm, so far she is pretty bored as there is no new information for her, but her town friends are amazed at some of the things they are learning. We live in southwest MN.
Thanks Jean. Definitely ag classes will become more complex and useful I hope for your daughter in the future! My son wasn’t very interested in seventh grade but started in late eighth grade to become active in FFA. Now it’s his favorite part of high school!
Our school dropped our Family and Consumer Science Program this year. I’m concerned that the Age classes will be next. I had to step in and demand that my son be able to take Spanish and Ag as a Freshman. They had to choose between the two. I argued that he is college bound to probably major in an Ag field and he needed both. He is taking both! Your son is lucky that he is allowed to return home for lunch. Our students are not allowed to leave.
Marina, great job at the working hard to get that Spanish and Ag classes offered. I haven’t had such success.
terri Christenson says
A very well written article….it is soo sad that our country seems to be headed in the opposite direction!!
I hope we can reverse the trend Terri!
Valerie Plagge says
Great post Katie! I think there are a lot of opportunities for agriculture and FCS education in our schools and I’m happy that Hunter is taking time to participate in those programs. I love how FFA and ag education has expanded in our local area since I was in high school. The only issue for students I see, is that it is sometimes hard to fit those classes in with their required core classes, especially if your school has block scheduling.
I agree Val! There are scheduling issues but I hope schools keep working at it and don’t give up on the ag education programs! They are vital.