From Farm to Table: Educating the next generation
The United Nations estimated in 2019 that the world’s population would increase by 2 billion in 2050. To feed such population growth, the Food and Agricultural Organization determined that an increase of 70 percent in agricultural production would need to occur. Furthermore, the Census of Agriculture found that American farmers are 58 or older and that the number of younger individuals in farming continues declining. Food supply is then uncertain due the lack of people substituting retiring farmers. Disinterest of the younger generations in agriculture are attributed to societal perceptions that farmers lack career development and quality of life . The disconnect from the processes, places, and people from which food comes from is also another reason why interest in agriculture continues to decline in young individuals [2,3]. Thus, we discuss in this article that in order to aid the demand in food supply and understand the importance of agriculture, we first need to change misconceptions by educating the next generation.
In the United States, programs like Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development and National Young Farmers Coalition are trying to enhance sustainability of the next generation of farmers by offering education through training, outreach or mentoring. However, implementing school gardens has been regarded as a worldwide approach to influence children’s food-knowledge, -attitudes and -preferences in low- and high-income countries . Research studies have also found that such gardening programs are in response to the social, nutritional, and economic challenges in urban communities across America . In addition, it’s been shown that children’s eating behaviors are highly impacted through the modelling of their parents or caregivers since most meals are eaten at home rather than at school . Data has further shown that through a combination of hands-on experience with gardening and nutritional education at both school and home can impact children’s perspective in consuming and interest in healthier foods . Consequently, this suggests that a parent’s or a caregiver’s role in the next generation’s experience with agriculture is crucial.
The initiative of Kale Mamá in Puerto Rico is an extraordinary example of what parents can do when they are committed to educating and inspiring the next generation on agriculture. It all started back in 2015, where co-founders Elena Mercedes Rodríguez and Lauren Danner sought to connect their children to nature and agriculture through hands-on experience using gardening. They then developed workshops and PDF documents that range from finding and identifying insects to creating compost and using a flower’s petals to determine pH. These activities actively promote love and respect for nature but also demonstrate the hard work that goes into producing the food that we eat. Schools, restaurants, established gardens, food markets and other initiatives have opened their doors to Kale Mamá to collaborate.
One of their greatest achievements has been to receive the 2019 Environmental Donations from Ford. This funding has then allowed Kale Mamá to create pollinating gardens that educate the general public across the West sector of Puerto Rico. Despite times of COVID-19, the initiative has been kept alive through the tending of the co-founder’s personal gardens but also by using their funds from the Ford award to distribute garden starter box kits.
From left to right: Lauren Danner and Elena Mercedes Rodríguez receiving their 2019 Environmental Donations award from Ford.
As part of our interview with Kale Mamá, Co-founder Elena Mercedes Rodríguez gave us a few words of wisdom on how parents or caregivers can start to involve their children in gardening and agriculture:
1. No activity is too simple to start learning about agriculture.
Some parents may think that there are not enough ways to connect with agriculture. However, taking your kids to your local food market can be a great step to learning about where food comes from. This also promotes children to create connections with farmers, to eat local and what is in season and understand as well the value of food and those people who produce them. In the long run, it helps children think about bigger questions such as: How does global warming affect agriculture? Why are bees the most important pollinators in agriculture?
From left to right: Lauren and Elena inspiring the general public with gardening and recipes at the Aguadilla Farmers Market in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico.
2. Having a garden is not the only way to connect with agriculture.
Go to the closest park or neighborhood to walk with your kids. There, you can all try to identify the flowers, insects and trees. Don’t know what they are? Think of it as a detective game and take a picture to discover what you saw later at home. From there, you can discuss with your child things like: Why are those plants or insects growing where you live? Where do they originally originate from? All of these steps are vital to understanding how nature is fundamental for agriculture to thrive.
3. If you want to start a garden, use sunflower seeds.
Sunflowers will grow quickly and sprout almost every time. This gives children a sense of reward but also provides them with a handful of activities. Some of these activities are: cultivating the flower’s petals and using them as dye, eating sunflower seeds, leaving the seeds as bird or animal feed or replanting the seeds. This aids children to understand the complete cycle and process of what constitutes taking care of a plant and see how it grows. Children can also appreciate what farmers do for them every day and want to take care of other plants that are more challenging.
Children at a Kale Mamá workshop are breaking apart sunflowers to remove the seeds within.
If there is one thing that we can all learn from Kale Mamá is that no matter how small of an initiative it is, they can always be able to make a difference in educating and changing the general publics and children’s perspectives on the importance of agriculture.
For more information on Kale Mamá, please visit:
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