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Screen Shot 2013-11-19 at 12.08.57 PMHere’s more ore evidence that Nature-based Education is catching on as an organizing theme for pre-schools and early elementary classrooms! Kaitlin Mulhere recently wrote about Nature-based Programs in the Keene Sentinel newspaper:

Four-year-old Myles Alderfer waddles in his snow pants from the goats’ pen toward the trickling creek. In his small hands he holds a yellow bucket, as tall as his knees and half-filled with water. A little bit sloshes out of the bucket with each step he takes…

Read the whole article by Kaitlin Mulhere about Nature -based Education in the Monadnock Region of New Hampshire here:

Nature-based Education Programs Gaining Popularity in Area

by Jessica Skinner

Did you know that the number of registered farmer’s markets in the US has grown 128% since 2002 to over 7125 markets?  And that Farm to School programs are active in all 50 states?

There is a strong push to bring more local products onto our plates and into our schools, and to keep those products in communities where they are produced.  So why the push for local food?

Simply put, local food is more sustainable for our community in the long run.  A more localized food system embraces the main tenants of creating a more sustainable food system, taking into consideration the Three E’s: environment, economy, and social equity.

By investing more time, energy and money into our local community through the food system, we support much more than just the farmers and the preservation of our food.  From sustainable agriculture to sustainable land use planning to sustaining ourselves as human beings, the principles of sustainability are the guidelines by which the local food movement is rooted.

Reconnecting with our food and the system that it embodies is more of a (re)localization of our food system, keeping our dollars close to home by purchasing food within a 150 to 200 mile radius of one’s home. I say (re)localization because local and sustainable food systems are not a new concept, we’ve just grown away from them since the onset of the industrial revolution and our ability to grow, move and dispose of things far away and quickly without much thought as to what happens next.

I’m also referring to the increase in the number of home and community gardens springing up across the nation as a way to decrease food miles, our food’s overall carbon footprint, and the larger cost of food.

When national campaigns such as Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food, reconnect consumers to the origin of what they eat, it is evident there is a paradigm shift about how we interact with our food and the system that creates it.

So what is a food system through the lens of sustainability? Virginia Nickerson lays out the basic elements in this diagram from her report “Understanding Vermont’s Local Food System:”

From food production to distribution, waste and nutrient management to consumption, there is a common link that connects each one of them – the change agents that shape and mould this system. There are varying degrees to which each sector of the system plays a role. As in any ecosystem, no one element of the food system can function properly without the other.  When the change agents (that’s you, me, our policy makers, educators and researchers, and others) make socially responsible, economically viable and environmentally sound decisions regarding how our food is grown, how it is processed, and how it makes its way to our mouths, we are voting for a food system that will support us in the future, that will provide livable wages, and will help us to circulate money and other vital nutrients within our own communities.

Across the nation, educational leaders, farmers and parents are creating ways to reconnect people of all ages to various aspects of this system.  The Farm to School Network, whose goal is to “establish relationships between local foods and school children”, and projects such as Vermont Feed strive to get students involved and invested in their food system and their future.

If a child grows a carrot, or visits a farm where they harvest greens for their salad bar, or takes a trip to a landfill where they can see some of the effects of wasting resources, they will be much more inclined to make decisions that are more sustainable for themselves as well as their surrounding environment, including their schools, their families and their neighbors.  The Three C’s, Cafeteria, Classroom, and Community, guide the Vermont FEED network and are the core of many school based food education programs.  By teaching students how to make healthy food choices and by having them interact with their food system, they will become better decision makers in the future.

(Re)localizing and making our food system more sustainable is happening in big ways, from the growth in programs such as Farm to School and Farm to Institution, but also in the development of larger scale food waste composting programs, networks of small food processors and distributors, and educational materials, webinars, videos and workshops about how to sustain our food system so that it can sustain us.  This movement is grassroots AND being shaped by federal, state and local policy.  People are tuning into ways to change their eating and buying habits to keep our money and our resources local, as evidenced by the number of farmers markets, farm stands, gardens, energy reduction programs, buy local campaigns and more.

How can you connect the Three E’s with the Three C’s in your local food system?  

Eat More Kale photo:  Courtesy of Seacoast Eat Local

Diagram from “Understanding Vermont’s Local Food System” by Virginia Nickerson, Prepared for The Vermont Sustainable Agriculture Council, 2008

by David Sobel

All educators, administrators, school board members and school designers interested in Educating for Sustainability should consider attending the 2nd Annual Green Schools National Conference in Denver from 27-29 February 2012.   This will be an exciting gathering of folks for Green Schools initiatives throughout North America.  Arne Duncan, US Secretary of Education, will be one of the keynote speakers.

Everything you need to know is at:  http://www.greenschoolsnationalconference.org/index.php

Their conference announcement says,

Be a part of the only national gathering of K-12 leaders and educators coming together to make their schools and districts green & healthy centers of academic excellence.

IDENTIFY ways to save money by “Going Green”
DISCOVER new and diverse sources of funding for your green schools projects
EXPLORE the Green Marketplace to find green and healthy products & services at special discounted rates
NETWORK with and meet like-minded peers from across the country
FIND other schools and organizations to partner with on projects and grants.
EXPERIENCE exciting new resources for your students

This conference is also a comprehensive resource for districts and schools interested in applying for the new U.S. Department of Education Green Ribbon Schools Award Program

There will be more than 100 workshops and five “Solutions Summits” focusing on Student Achievement, More Effective Recycling Programs, Financing Green School Buildings, Healthy Food in School Lunchrooms and Diversity in Green and Healthy Schools.

I went to the 1st Green Schools National Conference in Minneapolis in 2010 and it was the most  buoyant, exciting and uplifting conference I’d been to in years. Great ideas, great conversations.     To paraphrase Arlo Guthrie, “I think we got ourselves a movement here.”   And it’s an honest-to-God, genuine, healthy, apple pie and motherhood, save the earth movement that builds strong bodies, strong schools and strong communities in at least twelve ways.   Consider going to the conference.

by Sue Gentile

Educating for Sustainability (EFS) simply means helping people learn how to meet their needs without compromising future generations’ abilities to meet their needs. This is about resource use, and of course, consumption.

Humanity’s consumption of natural resources expressed in land and sea surfaces necessary to renew them is an average of 2.2 global hectares (5.4 global acres) per person, while the area available to support the global population (6.3 billion) is an average of 1.8 global hectares (4.4 global acres) per person.

These 2.2 global hectares are 20 percent more than the global 1.8 hectares per person that exist – the latter area also needs to accommodate all non-human species. As a consequence, humanity’s ecological overshoot exceeds Earth’s regenerative capacity by at least 20 percent.

Continuing to consume the Earth’s resources at the current rate will compromise future generations’ abilities to meet their needs; this is unsustainable resource use. Sustainability involves systems thinking which results in sustainable use of resources through understanding of the interconnections between and interdependence of environmental, economic, and social systems. The only hope of achieving sustainability is through education. People need to learn to do systems thinking, to look for, identify, and understand interconnections and interdependence. This is what EFS is about.

EFS has evolved over the past twenty years and emerges from initiatives aimed at encouraging sustainable development, including the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 1992.

The need for education for sustainable development (ESD) was obvious at that conference, and EFS has developed as a result. International and national attention is now being focused on ESD and EFS initiatives. Recalling Chapter 36 of Agenda 21 adopted at UNCED, on promoting education, public awareness and training, the UN has declared 2005-2015 the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development, and in 2007 the theme of the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) annual conference was People, Planet, Purpose: Leading the Way to a Sustainable Future, and in 2005 it was Educating for Sustainability: How Far Will You Go?

Sustainability conferences, workshops, and symposia are happening across the country and around the world, attended by business people, educators, and policy makers among others. To be effective, EFS must include integrated focus on environment, economy, and equity. An image useful in representing this is that of a three-legged stool. The three legs of the stool represent the essential components of EFS: environment, economy, and equity. Just as removing a leg from a stool will make it impossible for it to serve its purpose, not including one of the three essential components of EFS will make it impossible for EFS to serve its purpose. What might we imagine this EFS stool supporting? What is sitting on the EFS stool? The future of the Earth? If one of the legs is missing, what then? The Earth is toppled?

No, the Earth, and its life, will go on—with or without Homo sapiens. What is supported by the EFS stool is the human future, a sustainable future. This is not so much about tree-hugging and protecting whales as it is about the sustainability of our own species on the planet. Of course, the process of achieving human sustainability will likely benefit some other species as well. So, how do we do EFS? We do it in formal and non-formal educational settings, we do it by modeling, and we do it through focus on the interconnections and interdependence of environmental, economic, and social systems with the goal of sustainability always in mind.

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