Saturday, October 15, 2011

Our children are our future

These past 2 days have been eye opening for me. As I listened to farmers, chefs and educators from all over the country, my beliefs in sustainability have been reaffirmed. I was also finally able to define sustainability. Not in the objective behavioral terms I have been trying to use, but in human terms. All of a sudden, it was all so simple: sustainability is our children.

While I was impacted by all the speakers at Dickinson's Seeding the Future Conference, one person in particular stood out and I think it is fair to say that he has forever changed my life. In his 2 presentations and my personal conversations with him, I felt passion, dedication and commitment that was contagious. His words ignited my ambitions and my emotions to the point where I had to fight back tears.

I have always been an active and involved citizen. I volunteer, advocate for the things I believe in and run a small business that focuses on improving people's lives. Despite these achievements, I often still question my purpose on this planet and the impact my actions can have.

Today Chef Tony Geraci answered those questions. "Everything I do has a connection to kids. If it doesn't, then I don't do it," he said, "It's just not worth it." The emotions I felt, as he spoke those words, consumed me. As an educator, as a behavior analyst and now as an aspiring educational farmer, kids had always been at the center of my actions. Our children ARE our purpose. They are our future and they deserve the very best we can offer. They deserve a good education, good food, good support and most importantly they deserve to be empowered.

As for making an impact, Geraci said he did not believe in experiencing life as a bystander. He expressed that we were only here for a nanosecond of time and that we should make the most of it. "I want to carve my name on the world and let people know I was here and made a difference," Geraci told a small group of people chatting with him after his keynote address. If you want to make an impact, he said, it is as simple as creating a plan and putting it into action. "START! START! START!"

In case you don't know Tony Geraci, also known as Cafeteria Man, he is a successful restaurateur who in recent years has dedicated his life to farm-to-school programs. He believes in providing our children with real and nutritional foods, so that they are better able to learn. "You cannot have the expectation that a teacher can teach if the kid is hungry or jacked up on sugar," Geraci said. Even cooler is Geraci's belief in a system where the farm isn't just a way to give our children access to better food, it is also a way to provide our children with real-life hands-on educational experiences.

What Geraci spoke about during his presentations was not new to me. As an educator and behavior analyst, I feel comfortable saying that I know what the components of a good educational program are. The powerful part of his presentations was to see those principles applied; to see that guidance, support, reinforcement and empowerment are four of the strongest tools you can give a child. And to see that with some vision and dedication you CAN really make a difference.

In Geraci's farm-to-fork approach the children don't just eat fresh food and learn where their food comes from, they also learn how to grow it, how to plan a farm, how to plan and create a meal and what the history of the food being grown is. And because not everyone wants to be a biologist or famer, the program is integrated into all subjects. In his program in New Hampshire for example, some children made beehives during their woodworking class, others created budgets during math, others created marketing materials during art and yet others determined the menu's nutritional content during science. They learned the value of community and teamwork. They learned to appreciate each person for their unique set of skills. Additionally, the programs also empowered the students by allowing them to have a voice and teaching them how to take ownership of their education and food choices.

It's not just about providing our children with the quality of food they deserve. It is also about shaping the future citizens of the world into people who care about the communities they live in and the planet they depend on. So if you ever question your purpose on this planet or the importance of sustainability, remember this: Sustainability is our children and our children are our future.

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