INTERN JOURNAL
Closing the gap between the "real world" and educational institutions
The Rodale Institute's online intern discovers the value of including sustainable agriculture in the curriculum from elementary school through college.

By Joanna Hamilton

editor's NOTE:

This season our interns will be taking turns tracking their observations and sharing what they are learning helping out the various department here at The Rodale Institute.

This next generation of farmers offers insights into what motivates them to go against the tide when so many farm families struggle to keep up-and-coming generations interested in farming.

As they will tell you, it’s a combination of love for the land, good food, sharing community, and a sense of purpose that keeps them going.

--NF Editors


photo by Mary Honablew

August 10, 2006: This summer I worked as an editorial intern for The Rodale Institute’s Kidsregen.org (www.kidsregen.org). The website helps elementary-age kids learn about making healthy choices for themselves and for the earth. My main duties included writing two “Celebrity Food” articles (I learned more than I thought there was to know about tomatoes and pears), researching possible articles and projects for the website, and putting my English-major skills to use by proofreading and copy-editing a variety of documents for both Kidsregen.org and The Rodale Institute.

Working at The Rodale Institute opened my eyes to the depth of issues that often go unnoticed or unmentioned in my small liberal arts college “bubble.” Spending the majority of my time reading, analyzing and writing about literature sometimes puts an impersonal distance between me and critical issues of worldwide poverty, hunger and environmental degradation. Not to belittle the importance or impact of literary works—they can be a dynamic catalyst for causes, including sustainable agriculture (e.g. the works of Wendell Berry). But a gap often exists between “real-world” problems and insular life in an institution of higher learning. Doing copy-editing work for The Rodale Institute on projects such as press kits, the annual report and resource lists reminded me just how important it is to have connections between the research/scientific world and the “lay”/non-scientific community in order to find productive solutions to global issues such as those sustainable agriculture addresses.

Just as I spent my summer learning more about the many ways to get involved in the movement for regenerative agriculture, Kidsregen.org offers kids a variety of ways to connect with the activities and information it provides. Kids who are interested in arts and crafts can focus on making Paper Garden crafts, while those who are more interested in getting their hands dirty can spend time doing different gardening and composting projects. Oftentimes, activities are designed in relation to others on the site so that kids will be motivated to look beyond what they’re already interested in or what they already know. For example, my article about tomatoes was published around the same time as a tomato craft was introduced in the Paper Garden and a recipe for fresh homemade salsa was added to the site.

Kidsregen.org also reaches beyond individual students and families by providing resources for educators and sharing success stories from schools around the globe. A school garden is an amazing way for kids to gain first-hand experience in cultivation and to develop their understanding of where their food comes from (“You mean those green stems are attached to carrots underground?!”) and the work that’s involved in getting it to their table. Through Kidsregen.org, parents, teachers and school administrators can learn about different types of school gardens and get tips on how to start their own programs.

Early education about organics and sustainable agriculture is increasingly important as organic farming moves into the spotlight in the United States and around the world. Because official definitions of “organic” do not necessarily include “local” nor focus on sustainability, and because food labels and packaging can be misleading, it is vital that we educate today’s children about regenerative agriculture in such a way that they understand its nuances and its importance.

While participating in a SAITA (Sustainable Agriculture Intern Training Alliance of Southeastern Pennsylvania) event at The Brandywine Valley Association (BVA), I learned that some states do a lot more than others when it comes to including agriculture and sustainability in mandatory public education. Pennsylvania and Wisconsin are two states that have extensive curriculum requirements in these areas at elementary, middle- and high-school levels. Integrated Pest Management will soon appear on Pennsylvania’s state exams required for high-school graduation. Because many teachers already struggle with having too much material to cover and not enough time in the school year, groups such as the BVA that provide hands-on programs are vital to teachers and students. Residents of Pennsylvania are lucky in two respects—they have access to organizations such as the BVA, and their government recognizes the importance of environmental education (which includes sustainability). For parents of children participating in educational systems that don’t cover agriculture and sustainability, or for people unable to participate in activities such as those provided by the BVA, Kidsregen.org is an important resource. Through the website, kids learn about the varieties of plant, animal and insect life that work together in agriculture, from small family gardens to larger farms.

As organic and sustainable agriculture grow in popularity across the country and around the world, it’s increasingly important to provide kids with innovative and exciting ways to learn. Kidsregen.org is a vital part of Rodale’s "Healthy Soil = Healthy Food = Healthy People" mission. As board chair Ardie Rodale often says, “Children are our future farmers”—and they will be able to be more productive in the organic movement if they are exposed to and informed about organics and sustainability early in their education.