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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

"Why does the farmers' market smell so much better than the grocery store?": My web chat with Baltimore 5th Graders

This week I web chatted with a group of 5th grade students at City Neighbors Charter School in Baltimore. Their teacher, Ms. Jessica DiLorenzo, has been challenging the students to start discussions regarding our modern food and farming system and the impact it has on our health, community and environment. The further along the class got in the discussion, the more passionate they became. Many showed interest in making changes in their own food choices, as well as implementing changes that would better their local community.

In effort to augment their classroom discussions, Ms. DiLorenzo asked me if I would video chat with the class to try to answer some of their questions. Naturally, I will thrilled to have the opportunity.

I went in not knowing what to expect, but immediately was surprised by how much the kids already knew about seasonal eating. Some of the students not only were interested in learning more about the topic, but many of them were explaining to me why eating locally grown food was better than stored, out-of-season produce. They explained that the food they had tried from the farmers' markets, or in some of their cases out of their family's backyard garden, was so much more delicious than their supermarket counterparts. They also said that picking food out at the farmers' market - or out of their own garden - was so much more fun than grocery store shopping (more like a "treasure-hunt", one student said). Another student noted that the produce at the green market "always smells so much better" than the produce at the supermarket.

One student described for me and the class how the carrots that his mom grows in the backyard vary from those in the stores. "They just have a green weed-like tops sticking out of the ground that kind of looks like parsley. And they are always really lumpy, like a long, skinny potato." That led into a great discussion on why all supermarket carrots look almost identical to each other and are usually free from lumps and bumps. To note, the reason carrots become lumpy is because they grow around rocks and stones in the ground. The soil used in industrial farming has long ago removed all of these "imperfections" in order to achieve uniformity.

The students raised a lot of really interesting questions, ranging from "why do I write this blog?" and "how did I become interested in seasonal/local eating" to very specific questions like "describe the perfect tomato" and "can you explain the purpose and benefits of composting?". We also talked pretty extensively about the impact of preservatives and chemical fertilizers on our food and on the environment. One of the students, who inquisitively asked how the pickles that her family bought two years were not yet expired, was
able to answer her own question after our discussion on preservatives.

The class is eager and excited to start testing out some seasonal recipes and visit the local farmers' market to pick out produce. I suggested kale chips for an easy-to-make and delicious wintertime snack food - which they made later that week (and sent me this photo of the outcome)! In the early summer, when cucumbers come into season, I suggested trying out making their own homemade pickles.

In the meantime, Ms. DiLorenzo is continuing the discussion with the students and plans to start a blog for the students to chronicle what they learn and experience (both inside and outside of the classroom) regarding sustainable, local eating. They are also researching the various non-profit organizations that help local, urban communities set-up rooftop gardens.

A huge thank you to Ms. DiLorenzo for facilitating this discussion with the students. I hope we can continue the discussion and I hope to hear about the successes and challenges you encounter. I look forward to checking in with the class soon - I learned a tremendous amount and felt hugely inspired by their excitement and enthusiasm.


  1. Rachel, thank you for the beautiful, detailed post of our experience! Let's do it again soon! You are truly an inspiration.


  2. Thank you for being such an inspirational teacher! It is so wonderful that you started the discussion with them -- I'm just happy to be a part of it!