Edible Walls, Seriously?
~By Denise Henderson, Square One Organics
Recently I spent some time researching my family’s genealogy on Ancestry.com, where I learned that my focus on food is truly in my blood, having inherited my passion for healthy eating from my Sicilian forbearers. It’s amazing how things come full circle and naturally want to go back to square one.
It seems like our society is having the same experience, returning to the table and realizing the value of shared food that we grow and prepare together. As a mom of 10-year-old twins, I’m an especially big believer that you are what you eat and how you eat it. Through food, you can model team work, communication, healthy living, and self-esteem. Can you really derive all of this from a couple tomato plants and some kid-friendly recipes, you ask? Yes — and a whole lot more!
So it’s little surprise that I love the renewed focus on backyard gardens and bringing families back together in the kitchen for meals. You can also imagine how very excited I was when I learned about Stephen Ritz, a teacher “growing green” in the South Bronx. Ritz powerfully demonstrates how schools can reinforce the value of healthy foods and healthy lifestyles.
The curriculum Ritz has developed around growing food is truly remarkable and incredibly empowering for his students and their community. His energy is also infectious and will inspire you not only to eat well but to make your own dreams a reality.
Ritz has taken the schoolyard garden to the next level, bringing it inside the school. His students have planned, designed, planted, and installed their very own “edible walls.” These students, also known as the Green Bronx Machine, grow all of their food inside the classroom. They then cook with it and sell and donate some of it. They also write about it on their blog and Facebook page.
Ritz’s students have grown more than 25,000 pounds of vegetables in the Bronx while growing academically as well. Classroom attendance has skyrocketed from 40 to 93 percent since the edible wall took root in the curriculum. Ritz’s classroom features the first indoor edible wall in the NYC district of education, and it routinely generates enough produce to feed 450 students healthy meals while training the youngest nationally certified workforce in America, creating and helping to fund 2,200 youth jobs.
And it’s not just happening in New York. Plenty of this work is taking place in the Chicagoland area as well. The Whole Foods Kids Foundation has noted the importance of this movement and is getting involved. To date, the foundation has donated $1.7 million to schoolyard gardens across the nation, with more than 500,000 students in more than 880 schools reaping the edible rewards.
Check out this list of other local associations committed to nutrition education in our area:
- Slow Food Chicago
- Chicago Eat Local Live Healthy
- Healthier US School Challenge – Farm To School National Resources (Team Nutrition)
- Angelic Organics Learning Center
- Dawes Edible Schoolyard/The Edible Schoolyard Project
- Growing Home Chicago
- Growing Power Chicago
- Purple Asparagus
- Seven Generations Ahead
So here’s to getting us all back to the table for healthy meals, where little mouths and the grownups around them are happily talking, eating, and celebrating good food.