Every Teacher a Food Educator! How to Expand Garden-to-Classroom in Every School

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the 9th National Farm-to-Cafeteria conference in Cincinnati, OH. Sponsored by the Farm-to-School Network, this conference brings together foodservice directors, nutrition specialists, farmers, producers, and policymakers from all over the country. As a formal educator, I am definitely considered a minority stakeholder, despite the argument that more school educators (and educational researchers) should pay more attention to food (Weaver-Hightower, 2011). Nonetheless, my viewpoints were well received.

I presented a poster that reported progress I’ve made with the implementation of a Whole Kids Foundation Innovation Grant, Common Core Cooking and Gardening for the Next Generation, a project that aims to involve classroom teachers in food education by connecting lessons to literacy and science standards. I propose that teachers want to be part of the movement to promote student wellness, if given the resources to do so. What resources, you might wonder? Here are just a few ideas that come to mind:

Knowledge Resources: Elementary teachers are skilled in pedagogy, but are typically knowledge generalists. Teacher preparation programs focus largely on reading and math content. Science, social studies, or the arts are not disciplines that get a lot of attention. Food knowledge encompasses not only declarative, procedural, and dispositional knowledge, but also personal, social, communal understanding. Teachers need conceptual frameworks to guide their lesson planning and execution.

Material Resources: Paper and pencils are ubiquitous tools in the classroom. Cutting boards, knives, and bowls are not. If we want teachers to offer experiential food education, they need access to the tools of the trade.

Text Resources: Cookbooks, websites, and media are just a few text resources food-obsessed folks use to learn their craft and hone their skills. Teachers need student-friendly versions of these resources as well as high-quality print or online lesson plans to develop their understanding of food education.

Human Resources: Teaching is a collaborative profession, especially in the 21st century. Teachers need to be invited into the social fabric of the food system so they can get a sense of the culture, values, and technical skills embedded therein.

In response to some of these resource gaps, the Common Core Cooking and Gardening for the Next Generation offered teachers a place at the table as partners in food education. Fifteen classroom educators were invited to join a network of like-minded colleagues to design and pilot standards-based lesson. They were also given engaging literature, lesson ideas, and cooking kits to nurture their emerging talents. To honor the extra time they put into planning cooking and gardening lessons, teachers received a stipend. Using teachers’ expert feedback, this project will soon release a Curricular Guide that will hopefully entice more educators to incorporate food education into their day.

Farm-to-Cafeteria Conference Poster_Draft 2pdf

I thoroughly enjoyed sharing the successes and challenges of making every teacher a food educator and garnered some great ideas for expanding the reach of this work. My next post will focus on the framework for lesson design. Stay tuned!

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