Sunday, February 17, 2013

Meet Phoenix's Next Generation

Are kids really interested in learning about where food comes from?
The 4th and 5th-graders at Broadmor Elementary are!
After several tries to make contact with schools along our route, we finally got connected with a parent volunteer, Kelly Hedberg, who coordinates the school garden at Broadmor in Tempe, Arizona. She scheduled us to come and speak to four classes while we were in town.
A bit nervous - kids can be a tough crowd, and we hadn't tried out the iPad/projector connection before - we showed up at the school with our bikes. Everything hooked up beautifully (thanks, Apple, for putting your products in just about every school in the nation!) and we dimmed the lights.
We started out with pictures of us, our home, farm and goats in Eugene, Oregon, and our kitty, Silvia. The cute animals had them hooked. We moved on to pictures and videos of some of the crops we've seen growing in farms we've stopped at along the way. Our goal was to send home the point that ALL the food we eat comes from farms. Then we showed some pictures of home, school and community gardens and talked about why it makes sense to grow your own food rather than buy it from somewhere far away. We also talked about other options for getting fresh, local food, like at the farmers' market (which we happened to have visited in Tempe and the nearby community of Gilbert that weekend).
We wrapped up by talking about and showing the food that Hannah and I eat to stay healthy and have energy to ride our bikes 50 miles a day. As an antidote to all the marketing for sugary snack foods and "energy" drinks, we wanted to let the kids know that those products have nothing to do with keeping your body fueled. It seemed to sink in - we even got a few "yums" when we showed the picture of our morning oatmeal loaded with dried fruit and nuts. We also showed them some ways that we eat locally year-round when we're at home. My food dehydrator in action, canning, and a neat video of us pressing apple cider last fall.
Connor, an intern from Arizona State University's School of Sustainability,
and Kelly, the garden coordinator, at Broadmor Elementary
After we were done talking, we took some questions from the audience. First and foremost, they HAD to know what happened to Silvia and who is taking care of her. We assured them that she is happy at home with her new roommates and we look forward to rejoining her when we get back to Eugene. Then they had a lot of logistical questions about how we carry things and how fast we go. Finally, the burning question: "Isn't it dangerous?" A tricky one to answer given how safety-oriented everyone seems to be these days. We talked about the importance of wearing your helmet and watching out for cars, but we also hinted that if you want to really experience your life, you have to expose yourself to a little risk.
There were still lots of hands in the air, but we our 45 minutes were running out and I wanted to take a quick, impromptu survey. I asked the kids how many had a vegetable garden at home. About two-thirds of them raised their hands! Tempe is Phoenix's most progressive area so this wasn't too surprising. Almost all of them also claimed to have cooked their own meal before, which was surprising! These kids are definitely way ahead of where we were at their age. Then we asked how many ride their bikes to school and there were only a handful.
They weren't lying. When we left the school at the end of the day, the quiet residential street was a mayhem of automobiles. We were staying just a few blocks away so we walked our bikes and watched the slow-motion traffic jam unfold. In Arizona, parents can choose the school their kids go to - they're not limited to the school in their neighborhood. Still, we saw many of those cars turn into driveways just a few blocks away. In the summer months here, it is actually too hot (110 degrees or more) to walk even a couple of blocks, so that makes sense, but apparently people's habits don't change in January. It was a pleasant 70 degrees.
In addition to growing veggies, the students also have a good selection
of native ("water-wise") plants. The beds in the back are
currently dedicated to science experiments. 
That evening, I got an email from one of the Broadmor student's parents. She wanted to know what the device was that extracts juice from apples, because her son saw a video of it today, and said they have to have one! I told her it was a cider press and its purpose was to convert an abundance of apples into juice for making apple cider or apple cider vinegar (or some people just freeze it). I didn't expect her to really be interested in using one here in Phoenix, where citrus grows much better than cool-climate fruit like apples, but she wrote back and said that they had just planted an apple tree! Apparently there is a variety that does well here and was recommended by a permaculture landscaper.
Who knew? The next local-food-topia may be the Phoenix valley. After all, this area's economy was founded on agriculture. The original proposed name was actually Pumpkinville, because early (white) settlers had such a good crop of squash when they first arrived. Now, Phoenix's chief industry is construction and its economy couldn't survive without constantly expanding the city out into the desert. There's also the problem of water - how long will it last?
We left Pumpkinville/Phoenix unsure of what the future would bring, but hopeful that its young people were being set on the right track, thanks to a handful of forward-thinking parents and their dedication to school gardens. Thanks, Broadmor, for letting us stop by!

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