“Miss Jessica!!” “Miss Jessica!” I turn my head to see two first graders walking down the hallway, looking very proud, and they are shouting my name with enthusiasm. I walk towards them, gesturing for them to be quiet, but before I have taken three steps they are shouting again, this time they are holding their lunch boxes high up in the air, like strange trophies.
“We have FRUIT in our lunches!!!!!” Their voices are breaking with excitement, and I feel my face crack into a giant smile, I have stopped in my tracks and they are already racing around the corner. If I could only choose one word to describe how I felt in that moment, rewarded about sums it up.
In the few months since I’ve had the pleasure to begin my work with Explore Ecology, I have come to realize the vital importance of the work I am doing.
It’s hard to explain the feeling that washes over me when I discover that the child I have just made a salad for is tasting a green onion, or a beet, or a cucumber, for the first time in their entire life. The way their eyes light up when it dawns upon them that the crisp carrot they hold in their small hands was grown from energy from the sun. Learning that nutrition isn’t just a word on a label but something tangible that has a direct impact on their lives, learning about vitamins and nutrients and not just that fruits and vegetables are good for them, but why they are good for them is a first for most of them.
The squeals of horror when students are holding an earthworm, or smelling the compost, are music to my ears. They are learning that sometimes the ugly, the stinky, the scary things in this world are what makes our lives possible, our food possible. These children develop an understanding of not only the way an ecosystem functions, but what we can do to be stewards of the environment and the food chain. They can carry the knowledge of the harmful ramifications of chemical pesticides and insecticides both home and on into the future, and are ambassadors for healthy eating to not only their peers but ideally their own children someday.
The obesity rates in this country have skyrocketed. Heart disease and diabetes is rampant. I am living in a generation that has succumbed to easy living, fast food is the staple for the average American, and we, as a populace, are moving farther and farther away from a working knowledge or appreciation for the source of the foods that frequent our dinner plates.
The solution, I truly believe, lies in the education of our future generations. They are the seeds of change. When I see children let out for their lunch break make a beeline straight for the garden, run up to me with hearts pumping and breathlessly ask what they can do in the garden that day, I am filled with hope. For that child, for their peers, and for our collective futures.