Contributing author: Sabrina Endicott
School gardens can be great ways for kids to learn where food comes, and according to a recent study in Australia, gardens can also improve students’ academic performance, social skills, and health. The researchers find that hands-on programs not only encourage young people to increase their consumption of fruit and vegetables, but they also improve science and math grades.
“The biggest opportunity to fix the food system comes via education,” Stephen Ritz, founder of the Green Bronx Machine, tells Food Tank. “When children grow food in school, they learn all of this and become actively empowered and engaged in their lives and the lives of living things around them.”
But the benefits of garden-based learning are not confined to schools. Cooking and farming instructors help people of all ages lead healthier lives. According to a study by the University of San Diego, garden-based cooking classes for older adults increased participants’ overall health by 48 percent.
August marks the beginning of a new academic calendar for many. And despite disruptions, educators around the world are continuing to address food security, sustainability, and nutrition. This month Food Tank is highlighting 20 educators and teachers around the world that use hands-on lessons and the environment to create a more resilient food system, inside and outside the classroom.
1. Peter Becker, Germany
Peter Becker is a chef and nutritionist who uses edible wild plants to preserve biodiversity and develop a sustainable alternative to the food system. Becker educates children and adults how to harvest and cook wild plants through his program, Wildkräuter Werkstatt. He has created herb beds at four different schools in Wiesbaden-Klarenthal, Germany, where he also hosts workshops.
2. Alexis Daniels, United States
Alexis Daniels is known as a Parachute teacher—a substitute teacher who is an expert in a certain field. Working in a school for kindergarten through eighth grade in East Boston, Daniels integrates cooking and food into all of her lessons. She helps students understand how health, society, and the environment intersect with food. She is also the director of a teaching kitchen at a local YMCA in Massachusetts.
3. Sidney Etienne, Haiti
Sidney Etienne increases food systems education by sharing knowledge with his community. With the help of volunteers, Etienne provides educational opportunities through his organization Grown in Haiti. His mission is to help communities’ improve soil health and increase access to locally adapted seeds. Using community gardens, Etienne teaches seed saving and organic farming methods.
4. Michael Foley, United States
Michael Foley has been an educator for over 40 years at the high school and university levels. Foley provides opportunities for aspiring farmers to get hands-on experience, as well as a formal education in sustainable agricultural practices. In 2013, Foley and others founded the Grange Farm School, now known as the School of Adaptive Agriculture. Today, Foley serves on the board and hosts students on his farm in California, where he teaches several classes.
5. Morag Gamble, Australia
Morag Gamble is a permaculture teacher, speaker, author, and film-maker. She is the creator of the YouTube channel, Our Permaculture Life Blog, where she offers online education classes and two permaculture certificates. Gamble is the founder of the Permaculture Education Institute and co-founder of Community Gardens Network and Northey Street City Farm. She is a Global Permaculture Ambassador and has taught in over 22 countries.
6. Felix Gimenez, Paraguay
Felix Gimenez is a teacher at The Don Fabián Cáceres secondary school in Luque, Paraguay, where he educates students on sustainable food systems and business skills. He offers hands-on lessons on organic food production, animal rearing, and land cultivation. Gimenez also facilitated the construction of two model nurseries and the installation of a solid organic waste processing plant where the residents of Luque can bring organic waste and convert it into soil.
7. Mariela Guadagnoli, Brazil
A trained architect and teacher in the city of Gálvez, Mariela Guadagnoli uses project-based learning to engage students and help them work collaboratively with their communities. To enhance her students’ relationships in the community, her class built a communal organic garden on the site of a nearby nursing home. She is a candidate for the Varkey Foundation’s Global Teacher Award for 2020.
8. Avishai Himelfarb, Israel
In 2015, Avishai Himelfarb, a former garden educator with the Society of the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI), started Leshomra, an organization that develops environmental educational programs for schools. Inspired by his work with SPNI, he began hosting farm tours and in-school green education programs. Leshomra addresses the demand for garden education in his community and increases environmental consciousness through weekly after-school gardening and nature activities. The organization has led over 7,000 children and adults on educational farm tours.
9. Tony Hillery, United States
Tony Hillery is the executive director and founder of Harlem Grown, an organization that aims to inspire youth to lead healthy and ambitious lives through mentorship and hands-on education in urban farming, sustainability, and nutrition. Hillery educates Harlem residents, specifically elementary students, by implementing high-impact food programs. Harlem Grown currently has 12 urban agriculture facilities ranging from soil-based farms, hydroponic greenhouses, and school gardens, and engages more than 800 students.
10. Max La Manna, United States
Max La Manna is a zero-waste chef and educator who uses his platform to show people how to cook, compost, and garden with their food scraps. His BBC series challenges people to use their food waste to create meals and teaches people the environmental impact of food waste. As an environmental activist, La Manna is educating a younger generation to build a strong food system.
11. Bjorn Low, Singapore
An urban farmer and educator, Bjorn Low works to incorporate green spaces in urban settings that enhance communities. His organization, the Edible Garden City, offers workshops on edible gardening for corporations and schools. Low and his partners create farming curriculums for schools that are hands-on and connect students with nature.
12. Joshua Olsen, United States
Previously a restaurant owner and professional chef, Joshua Olsen now teaches at Acres Farm, an organic farm in Lakewood, Colorado. He brings his past experience in the food industry to educate high school students on pressing environmental issues. Striving to help students build stronger food systems in their communities, Olsen teaches them about harvesting, soil health, and working in a professional kitchen.
13. Leah Penniman, United States
Activist and educator Leah Penniman is the farmer and co-founder of Soul Fire Farm. There, she trains farmers and leads programs that dismantle racism in food systems. Penniman’s teaching and activism centers on food sovereignty and racial justice within the food system. She is the author of Farming While Black, a guide for people of African-heritage to engage and learn small-scale farming. Soul Fire Farm and Penniman’s work is the recipient of the Presidential Award for Science Teaching and the New York State Health Emerging Innovator Award.
14. Stephen Ritz, United States
Based in the South Bronx, Stephen Ritz is a teacher and administrator whose education techniques focus on the ability for students to live, learn, and earn in their community. In the 2018-2019 school year, Ritz’s organization, Green Bronx Machine, reached more than 50,000 students in over 20 states. His Bronx classroom also features the first indoor edible wall in New York City’s Department of Education.
15. Dr. Gil Saguiguit, The Philippines
As director of the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), Dr. Gil Saguiguit created and led the School-Plus-Home Gardens project. The School-Plus-Home Gardens project focuses on using agriculture in schools to address the health and nutritional status of students as well as offer experiential learning. In 2018, Dr. Saguiguit, along with his colleagues at SEARCA and partnering universities, led a training program to scale up the School-Plus-Home Gardens project, teaching educators the importance of school gardens for nutrition, education, and economic well-being.
16. Scarlett Salamone, United States
After ending her teaching career due to chronic pain, Scarlett Salamone found a new passion in farming. On Loveland Acres Farm, Salamone mentors a handful of young adults aged 18-24 who help her with day-to-day farm production in exchange for a daily meal and groceries. Once a week, children are invited to explore the farm and learn farming practices. Salamone offers her tailored programming at a pay-what-you-can rate because she believes that no child should be deprived of a farm education, regardless of their race or background. She eventually hopes to scale up these programs and pay her mentees a sustainable wage.
17. Peter Tabichi, Kenya
Peter Tabichi is a science teacher in the Rift Valley, an area where many students face food insecurity. In his classes, Tabichi teaches students how to grow famine-resistant crops and gives away 80 percent of his salary to educational programs, sustainable agriculture, and peace-building. In 2019, he was the recipient of the Varkey Foundation’s Global Teacher Prize.
18. Adrienne Thadani, India
Adrienne Thadani is the founder of Fresh & Local, an organization that aims to make urban farming accessible to groups of all ages. Located in Mumbai, Thadani and her partnersimplement projects to educate and empower people and help them grow their own food. At Fresh & Local’s urban agriculture teaching center, Thadani hosts lessons where volunteers can learn more about sustainable agriculture programs in the area. Thadani’s next project is a Nomadic Garden, which is intended to teach elementary and middle school students about urban agriculture and food systems.
19. Alice Waters, United States
Chef and founder of The Edible Schoolyard Project, Alice Waters aims to transform students’ relationships with food through hands-on education in cooking and gardening. Waters combines her experience as a chef and years of teaching in Montessori schools to give students a stronger connection to food. At King Middle School in Berkeley California, around 250 people a week engage in the edible education program.
20. Dilek Yuruk, Turkey
In 2014, architect and permaculture designer, Dilek Yuruk founded Okul Bostanlari, a school garden program for middle schoolers in Istanbul. Through hands-on gardening, Yuruk teaches students how to grow edible plants and healthy foods in an urban environment. She wants to make the students into producers rather than consumers, teaching them the food supply chain and the benefits of permaculture. Currently, the program educates 100 students and counting.