As I wrote previously, the markets in France inspired me to change my buying habits. My interest in the topic spilled over into my history and geography classes as we discussed how modern transportation has transformed the ways Americans purchase food.
Like many of my students, I crave fresh and local fruits and vegetables. While we would like grapes, plums and cantaloupe in the dead of winter, in order to get there they must be flown in from South America. This practice is not environmentally friendly, nor does it support the efforts of the many small-scale farmers and business owners in the San Francisco Bay Area environs (or in your neck of the woods) who toil every day to bring us some of the most amazing products in the world.
For several months last year, we had lively class discussions on where our food comes from. By late spring 2008, not too long before a study trip to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, one of my classes had discussed the importance of buying locally and how far much of our food travels before it gets to us. While the primary goal of the field trip was the museum visit, we realized we needed some place to have lunch, since the museum didn’t have room to handle 60 kids. I had previously visited the San Francisco Ferry Building, a landmark dating back to 1892, and suggested that we go there. The best way for the kids to really learn about the importance of eating locally produced goods would be to interview some of the workers and shopkeepers who do business in the building. So, I assigned my students to interview a variety of people working and shopping in the Ferry Building in order to discover their attitudes about buying food produced within a 100 mile radius.
The students interviewed people at Frog Hollow Farms, Scharffen Berger chocolate (which, unfortunately, is no longer produced locally), Cowgirl Creamery, Acme breads and more. By the time I got to the Cowgirl Creamery they were looking for me. I spoke briefly with one of my groups as they were leaving the shop and went in to check out the yummy cheeses (the Red Hawk was a delightful surprise). One of the women approached me, “Are you their teacher?” I was wary in my affirmative response, but didn’t need to be. She was thrilled. She explained to me that so few teenagers, in her experience, knew anything about locally grown products, or the environmental consequences that result from corporate farming and from food traveling across international borders to meet the American consumer’s ravenous desire for fruits and veggies, regardless of the season in which they should be grown or produced. She complimented my students on their thoughtful questions and sincere interest in the topic.
Everyone the kids talked to responded happily to their questions (as well as to having a camera or video phone shoved in their faces). The videos showed a new understanding of how everyday choices can impact our planet and how, maybe, we need to rethink some of our choices. The assignment was so successful that when we returned to San Francisco for our field trip this year we had students complete the same task. The added twist this year was that we were there on a day that the farmers market, a tradition in the City, was in full swing out in front of the Ferry Building.
The new sites, sounds, smells and tastes for these students made a lasting impression. While I don’t know if their families’ buying habits have changed, I know they do think frequently about the assignment, since they will sometimes preface a comment with, “Remember when we went to the Ferry Building?”