Nourish California Aims to Grow Food Literacy

Gretchen Goetz | Food Safety News | April 27, 2011

Food Safety NewsCalifornia, a state that has long been at the forefront of the fresh food movement, is planting the seed of its “California cuisine” in the next generation.

This month marked the launch of the “Nourish California” program, an educational initiative designed to teach kids about where food comes from before it gets to the plate, from growing to preparation.

The goal is to arm children with the knowledge they need to make responsible decisions about what they eat, decisions that will positively impact society and the environment.

“Food literacy means understanding the story of our food, from farm to table and back to the soil,” said Kirk Bergstrom, executive director of WorldLink, the non-profit organization heading the project. “Our vision is to build a network of food-literate teachers and students who can directly contribute to the health of their schools and communities,” he said in a press release.

In order to tell this story, Nourish provides an educational curriculum for middle school students that teachers can download from its website. It also offers a variety of multi-media learning tools, including diagrams and videos with accompanying activities and questions.

These activities cover a range of topics, including food and ecosystems, food traditions, analysis of food ads and commodity farming versus small-scale farming.

The curriculum is easy to incorporate into classroom agendas, as it complies with both state and national education standards, and can be folded into lesson plans in 4 subjects: science, social science, health and English.

And in a school system recently hit with crippling budget shortages, Nourish has something going for it that will make it especially appealing to the appetites of educators: it’s free.  Anyone can download the educational material, even those outside the state.

Indeed while it’s starting in California, Nourish intends to expand across the country. “We are hoping that it will turn into a national initiative,” said Brie Mazurek, Nourish’s communications manager, in an interview with Food Safety News. “We want to distribute the materials as far and wide as we can,” she said.

This is why the program is also aligned with national educational standards, Mazurek says. She says that while the curriculum is loosely structured around the PBS documentary “Food + Community,” which is also free to California educators, “a lot of the activities stand independent of the film” for teachers outside the state who can’t afford the DVD.

In order to help it achieve its mission, Nourish has partnered with over 50 organizations, including Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Center for Ecoliteracy and California Farm to School.

The program is supported by many famous voices of the food movement, literally. Nourish’s website features videos narrated by famed foodies such as Jamie Oliver, chef and founder of the Food Revolution, Michael Pollan, author of books on the intersection of food and culture, and Alice Waters, proprieter of Chez Panisse– the restaurant that helped spur the local food movement in California and across the country.

Still in its seedling phase, Nourish estimates that it will grow to impact over 1 million children.

And Nourish has hit the soil running. Feedback has been only positive, according to Mazurek. “So far we’ve gotten a great response,” she says. “People have been really supportive.”

Mazurek says the hope is that ripple effects from the program will spark community action projects, and get adults involved in the discussion about sustainable agriculture as well.

“There’s potential for PTAs to use it, and for parents and educators to come together and use the material to begin that conversation about food in their community, food in children’s schools,” she says.

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