Do you remember when you realized that peanuts grew underground? That oranges come in different colors when you peel back the skin? Do you remember when you realized a tomato was a fruit? Or that there are over 1,700 different varieties of apples that grow here in the United States? What if I told you that kiwis were called Chinese gooseberries until the 1960’s? Or that you can grow over 300 types of grapes in Iowa. Maybe that moment of realization was in high school, maybe you were in college, or maybe you just learned it now?
These are things the youth in our region are learning whenever we visit their classrooms or take them to the gardens. Students and teachers are learning basic plant anatomy, simple botanical classification, fruit and vegetable origins and histories, agricultural practices as well as how our food system works. Best of all they are trying new foods every time we visit, and learning that there is an entire world they have yet to explore.
When I was growing up, my experience surrounding food was what my great grandmother and mother taught me on the weekends in the garden and kitchen. I learned how to can/preserve different types of produce/meat. How to pair the color of produce with the type of sugar I would use while cooking. After high school I went to work for Seed Savers Exchange. This is when I fell in love with plants and began to question everything.
When I went to the grocery store I typically only had 3 types of tomatoes to choose from. Now knowing there are over 3,000 varieties of heirloom/heritage tomatoes in cultivation right now and over 10,000 known varieties, I couldn’t help but ask, “Why do I only get to eat 3?”. That question led me to ISU where I studied Global Resource Systems and Horticulture. I learned about our current food system, how we got to where we are today, I learned about Post Harvest Handling Techniques, and why we only get 3 choices at the grocery store. Ultimately I learned the importance of local food, culture, and history.
As a Resource Contact for the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative, I know we have all been on journeys that have led us here today. Those journeys are very different, but we have come together to share in a common vision.
We, not just children, need to know where our food comes from, we need to be able to celebrate diversity, to explore what is out there, we need to be able to make informed choices as to what we put into our own bodies, and what better way to do this than through food and community. Our youth today, because of our commitment, are well on their way to understanding how food grows, where it grows, why we grow what we do, why what we eat is important, and why we should care. Our great grandparents never questioned these things because they didn’t have to, they were already living it. They only knew real food.
As a Resource Contact we are making a difference. As an individual, you can make a difference. Educate yourself and others; food is so much more than just food, it’s a link to life, to the past and to our future.