“Can I have seconds on salad, please?” is not something middle-schoolers ask everyday. Most kids prefer the high-fat, low-nutrient tastes of foods like French fries or pizza to anything leafy, green, or fresh.
But one organization, Leave It Better, has found a way to get kids excited about eating fresh vegetables by teaching them to grow produce from seeds. The program gives kids an activity that enhances their hands-on knowledge of earth science, and also lets them take pride in the accomplishment of consuming something that they, not some distant factory, produced.
Last fall, Leave It Better constructed gardens in ten schools and worked with students to plant and harvest lettuce. Alongside the gardening lessons, the kids learned about composting with worm bins - and later used their own compost to grow greens.
Over the course of the year, students were given small HD cameras to make documentaries about their gardening education. As the schoolyear ended, the kids gathered at the New York Botanical Garden for a viewing of their documentaries, as well as a picnic with freshly-harvested salad from the gardens they had maintained all year.
Graham Meriwether, Leave It Better’s founder, has a background in documentary filmmaking. After seeing Al Gore’s film about climate change, “An Inconvenient Truth,” he felt horrified at the planet’s prospects. But Meriwether also saw the power of film to educate the public about serious environmental issues, and he got the idea that telling positive stories could be just as important as shedding light on problems.
“We’re facing so many challenges, we don’t really have time to point fingers anymore,” explained Meriwether.
Apart from educating kids about gardening and healthy eating, Leave It Better has produced a full-length documentary film called “American Meat,” that focuses on the complexities of the meat industry in the United States. The documentary will premiere in Virginia theaters in July, and will begin showing in select theaters nationwide in August.
Salatin has recently begun a deal with nation-wide burrito chain Chipotle to sell meat from his farm to their locations in Virginia. Chipotle uses mostly “naturally-raised” meat in their restaurants, including dairy products from pasture-raised cows, and they are beginning to expand their sustainability mission by purchasing locally-produced meat in some regions.
“At the moment, local/regional meat is something we are doing on a pretty limited basis,” said Chris Arnold, the Communications Director for Chipotle, in an e-mail to Dowser.
“We also have a growing commitment to using locally grown produce,” Mr. Arnold explained, “and plan to use some 10 million pounds of produce from local farms (those within 350 miles of our restaurants) this year.” (GOOD Magazine recently reported on Chipotle’s efforts to use locally-sourced produce.)
For a large company like Chipotle, which has more than 1,100 restaurants in 35 states, going local presents some challenges.
“To make this work at our size and scale, you really always have to start small and build,” said Arnold.
"Start small and build" may as well be the motto of the sustainability movement, and Leave It Better is a fitting example. Each child who learns to garden, and each viewer who learns about the meat industry, is one more person who can make an educated choice about using the earth’s resources and eating healthfully.