Ben Taylor, son of legends James Taylor and Carly Simon, has roots as deep in the soil as he does in music, and he uses the stage as a way to spread awareness about local agriculture. He is an avid supporter of the Island Grown Initiative, a multi-faceted project based in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts that sponsors its own farm-to-school program, organizes a cadre of volunteer gleaners to harvest crops that would otherwise go to waste, educates beekeepers, and provides processing facilities for local poultry farmers.

Having heard about the program from his cousin Noli Taylor, Island Grown Schools’ Program Coordinator, Ben noted that the organization “tickled his fancy” for promoting a strong sense of connectedness within the community to the place they call home. Civil Eats recently spoke to Ben about his involvement in good food issues.

As a musician, how did you become involved with issues regarding food and agriculture?

Before I wanted to be a musician, I was looking for anything else that I could do. I’d been on a lot of wilderness excursions and I loved being in nature. When I first moved out of my home as a teenager, I went to New Mexico and worked on an organic farm out on San Juan Pueblo and that was just really cool. The guy that I worked for was this incredible natural mystic and I developed a profound respect [for him] and a different idea of what it meant to be a gardener. Read more

When I was in undergrad in the Northeast, around 15 years ago, a degree in “Food Studies” was unheard of.  A campus farm or edible garden was something reserved for agriculture schools or off-campus hippie/granola enclaves. However, the past 5  years have shown a proliferation of opportunities to get trained as farmers, gardeners, food policy makers, and food law practitioners.

On a recent site visit to Portland, Oregon, I met with FoodCorps service site supervisor Caitlin Blethen and her service member Jessica Polledri. Caitlin told me about her local program that trains school garden coordinators. This signaled to me a similar kind of sea change. It indicated that there is a desire out there to be trained in this work, and that there is a (slowly) growing market of jobs being created to do this work. I’ll let Jessica—a graduate of the program– take it from here: Read more

FoodCorps is growing—expanding the number of states we’ll be working in next year and expanding the number of service members who are creating community and creating change. We created FoodCorps with two goals in mind: Addressing a public health crisis and providing a training opportunity for all of growing interest in careers in food and agriculture. Becoming a FoodCorps service member is a way to launch your career in food and farming while helping kids get healthy.

Rachel is one of 50 future food systems leaders who started their terms of service this past August as the first ever class of FoodCorps service members. So far this year, these service members have reached over 20,000 children in 10 states. They are addressing the nation’s painful and costly childhood obesity epidemic using our three recipe ingredient for change: Hands-on nutrition education, growing and tending school gardens, and getting healthy local food onto school cafeteria trays. Read more

At a compost bin that doubles as a podium, urban farming hero Will Allen faced the inaugural class of 50 FoodCorps service members—sitting together in Milwaukee but about to spin out to ten states around the country–giving them advice for the year of service they have ahead of them.

“There’s a lot of skill and knowledge existing in the communities you’re going into. You’ll bring stuff, and you’ll learn stuff. It’s a two-way street,” he said. “That’s how real sustainability works.” Read more

Whatever you call him, Steve Ritz is an extraordinary example of how one person can make a difference.

He has two missions: The first is to get his Discovery High School students to grow and eat vegetables. The second is to ignite the Green Bronx Machine and get all of the borough residents to grow and eat healthy food. (Watch out for the soon-to-come Web site and meanwhile follow Green Bronx Machine on Facebook and Twitter.)

Ritz is fueled by the irony that although the Bronx is the distribution point for produce to all five boroughs, its residents have very little access to high quality, fresh vegetables.

“If my kids can’t buy good produce at the local supermarket, we’ll get them to grow it,” Ritz decides. And grow they do! Hundreds of pounds of it a year. Where? On the classroom walls. Read more

One year ago this week, the Obama administration launched Let’s Move, an initiative to solve the problem of childhood obesity within a generation.  It’s an ambitious–but critically important–goal.

In the last 30 years, the percentage of American children who are overweight or obese has tripled. Diet-related disease, diminished academic performance and a shortened life expectancy threaten the future of our kids. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three American children born in the year 2000 is on a path toward Type II diabetes. Among children of color, the figure approaches one in two. Retired Generals describe a coming crisis of national security: already, 27 percent of 17-24 year olds are ineligible for military service because of excess body fat.

This administration has placed a strong emphasis on healthy futures for our children, and rightly so: America’s sweeping epidemic of childhood obesity requires us to martial a national response. Read more

School gardens are as old as schools themselves. As Arden Bucklin-Sporer and Rachel Pringle see it, however, their return might just be the key to a modern education. Bucklin-Sporer and Pringle are the executive director and programs manager (respectively) of the San Francisco Green Schoolyard Alliance (SFGSA) and authors of the new book How to Grow a School Garden: A Complete Guide for Parents and Teachers. I spoke with them recently about the book, their network, and what it will take to change education—one green schoolyard at a time. Read more

These days, we hear more and more about our food system in crisis: contamination, obesity, poor distribution, and environmental devastation.  To combat some of these issues, the school garden is a growing trend that aims to teach our kids a more direct connection to their food and eating habits.  It’s actually not a new concept.  During World War I and II, motivated by scarcity and national security issues, schools  became major suppliers of fresh produce.  Our government began the U.S. School Garden Army, promoting fruit and vegetable production, consumption, and health.  But now the format has entered modern times, up against modern ailments and a larger population.

It is one thing to plant a few sunflowers with Kindergarteners and another to install, maintain, and implement nutrition, cooking, and ecological curriculum that ensure a lasting impact on the students.  It’s not as easy as just planting some tomatoes and hoping our kids will get the message. We’ve all encountered a neglected schoolyard, tangled weeds and scorched earth, with evidence of good intention but stunted momentum.  To really hit home on the important seed to fork lessons a school garden can deliver, it takes tons of work, planning, thought, and consistency…a home garden times one hundred or more.  The hurdles involved are also great, from our national policies, to funding, to actual space available within our country’s concrete landscapes. Read more

When I started volunteering this winter as a garden science teacher with Washington Youth Garden, entering one 3rd-grade classroom every week to help instill knowledge and enthusiasm by the children for the wonders of nature, I had no idea that this experience would inspire me to initiate a national call for Universal School Gardens.

But when I witnessed the children’s smiles and eyes light up in the course of planting seeds and watching them sprout into seedlings and grow, my appreciation deepened for the many reasons why school gardens are gaining popularity and have an excellent track record for enhancing the educational learning and natural curiosity of young people. “Every student should be free to enjoy the incomparable thrill of tasting fresh healthy food that he or she had a direct hand in growing,” I thought, “and every school in America should sprout a garden!” Read more

As one of the teachers involved with Michelle Obama and the White House vegetable garden, I’ve been impressed with the sudden surge of public interest in the simple act of children planting seeds. At Bancroft Elementary School, where I work first and foremost as an art teacher, we know only too well the benefits children get from growing their own food.

But I don’t think the public has any inkling how hard it is for teachers to maintain school gardens like the one we have at Bancroft. Despite all the hoopla over school gardening, the truth is teachers engage in these activities at risk of their jobs. You see, gardening is not part of the mandated school curriculum. We are supposed to be teaching reading and math. As much as we believe school gardens offer a multitude of teaching opportunities, schools do very little to support us. Principals and teachers have been bluntly told that they will lose their jobs if math and reading scores don’t improve. We desperately need help. We need someone to take charge of our school gardens. Read more