When Connecting Kids to Healthy Food, Incorporating Culture and Heritage is Key

by Alex Freedman, FoodCorps Massacussetts fellow

When my students and I visited the garden for the first time, we toured the space to identify what was growing and where. “Does anyone know what kind of vegetable this is?” I asked. I got some glazed over looks; kale isn’t stocked at local markets and it’s unlikely these 2nd grade students had ever seen it before, let alone eaten it. “OK, what about these over here?” I asked, pointing to a plant behind the group. A few surprisingly eager hands rose, “Those are eggplants. My grandmother grows them in our garden at home!” I noticed a trend in the hands that were raised; all were students who were new Americans, or had family that came from Cambodia and Vietnam. “And these, right next to the eggplant?” I asked. A different set of eager hands raised, saying “Those are chili peppers! My mom cooks with those a lot.” This time the hands belonged to students who either were from or had cultural roots in the Dominican Republic or Guatemala.

The farm to school movement is strong, and growing every day. Figures like Michelle Obama and Michael Pollan are encouraging educators to influence young palates while they are malleable and new. However, nutrition teachers, school garden instructors, and public advocates are sometimes guilty of focusing on a very “American” way of approaching what foods to grow and eat. This notion of “American” is not only not inclusive enough, it’s not even factually correct. The United States includes an increasingly growing population of new Americans from all corners of the globe, and the students we teach come with a broad array of experiences and traditions that must be incorporated into our farm to school programming if we are to succeed in helping kids get excited about healthy food.

Read more of what Alex has to say on the Annie’s blog!