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Growing Up Green

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January 2017 was the third warmest January in 137 years of modern record-keeping. Approximately 400,000 square miles of Arctic Sea have already melted due to global warming. About 40% of the lakes in America are too polluted for fishing, aquatic life, or swimming and pollution is one of the biggest global killers, affecting over 100 million people.

The statistics are disparaging. We all need to do our part if we are going to see positive changes for our environment. And it is imperative that we raise our children with a respect for the planet and the desire to do good deeds on its behalf. Many schools and various organizations around Northeast Ohio help teach children how to be stewards of the environment and live a sustainable lifestyle. Here are some of them. 

Laurel School

At Laurel’s Outdoor Pre-Primary School, the forest, meadows and creeks of the school’s Butler campus serve as the classroom all year round. This 120-year-old private institution educates students ages three through five outside every single day, no matter the weather, away from structured curriculum and free to manage their own body signals. Children make their own choices about how they spend their time and thus become empowered, engaged, resilient, confident and highly motivated learners. They develop all the language arts, social studies, mathematics and science skills necessary for success in Kindergarten but also gain admiration for nature. 

With the outdoors as their classroom, children at Laurel develop an immense respect for living things, they learn about habitats and ecosystems, can identify and name plants and animals and develop a stewardship and understanding of environmental responsibility through composting and recycling.

But Audrey Elszasz, Outdoor Pre-Primary Teacher and Outdoor Education Specialist at Laurel says their program goes far beyond that. “Above all they learn to understand the human impact on the earth and discover how we can interact with nature and do no harm,” says Elszasz. “These students develop such a love for the planet and learn to think about how to always do right by it.” 

Rebecca Coley, a Laurel parent raves about her daughters experience with the program. “From hiking to base camp and transversing down challenging terrain, to being independent and excited to put on her gear and get muddy, to catching salamanders with her bare hands and investigating animal tracks, she is now a walking textbook on nature.” 

For more information about Laurel and their Outdoor Pre-Primary School, visit www.laurel.org. 

Kelly's Working Well Farm

In the fall of 2016 Kelly’s Working Well Farm in Chagrin Falls opened a full-time school for children ages 4 to 18. Students there learn about the development of agricultural ecosystems intended to be sustainable and self-sufficient. But they aren’t necessarily learning this by reading about it in books. Children at this school create their own “permaculture” by actively participating in food production, food preservation and cooking local and seasonal ingredients. The 6 acre farm on the outskirts of historic Chagrin Falls village, houses goats, sheep, chickens, pigs and other farm animals and maintains a fruit and vegetable garden.

Their curriculum teaches children about botany, biology, nutrition, chemistry, anatomy, architecture, structural engineering, carpentry and so much more. All of this is accomplished through a wide variety of seasonal activities such as amending the soil, planting, managing and harvesting foods grown on the farm, composting, food storage and preservation, milking, and small animal processing to name just a handful. 

There are no grades and there is no age segregation here. Students and staff in this “democratic” environment have an equal voice in deciding how the school will be run. 

 Kelly Clark, Director of Kelly’s Working Well Farm School, says their permaculture ethos approach to learning helps students develop a strong connection with the natural world.

Read more about the program at www.kellysworkingwellfarm.com.

Rust Belt Riders

Maybe you’ve heard that 40% of food grown in the United States is wasted. And according to a 2010 EPA report, 24% of municipal solid refuse is compostable. That number is even larger today. Rust Belt Riders is working to create wealth from that waste through the conversion of food scraps into value added products. The company is an organic waste removal service available to Northeast Ohio businesses, schools and institutions. While Rust Belt Riders works primarily with commercial food waste producers, they also help teach children in our community about the importance of composting.

The group which visits with students from kindergarten through high school begins by teaching kids about the massive food waste problem in our country and then gets them thinking about potential solutions. By informing them of all the benefits of turning garbage into compost, Rust Belt Riders works to reframe garbage as a resource. “We try to start at a young age to demystify the trash heap,” says Michael Robinson. “Then we get our hands dirty,” he says. 

At Akron STEM High School they worked to build vermi-composting systems and at other schools they have even worked with students to build a three bin system that allows the school to compost a portion of the food waste that comes from the lunchroom. Michael says they are happy to create a customized lesson depending on the age of the children they are visiting. Learn more about Rust Belt Riders at www.rustbeltriderscomposting.com. To schedule a visit to your school or event, contact Michael Robinson at 440-781-1054.

Veggie U 

Veggie U, a nonprofit based in Oberlin, supplies classroom gardens and a standards based, five-week science program to elementary and special needs students teaching them how to grow food. The kids literally get their hands dirty and plant their own mini-crop, tending to it and learning from it in daily lessons that are instructive, but seem more like play.

The lessons include studies of soil, planting, plant anatomy, composting and nutrition. In addition to a hands-on, scientific approach to learning about plants and their components, Veggie U incorporates extensive journal activities, mathematics, and language arts, providing an immersive study of core concepts. The students also care for a worm farm, raise a mini "crop", and celebrate the end of the program with a vegetable Feast Day. 

Veggie U is dedicated to increasing children’s awareness of healthy food options, but students are also learning about creating a more sustainable, environmentally friendly food system that leaves a lower carbon footprint. And by learning how to grow their own food they are also gaining an appreciation for the natural imperfections that are a part of food production, thus helping to reduce food waste.

Veggie U Executive Director Nadia Clifford likes to sum up the essence of their program with a short phrase; “Healthy soil, healthy vegetables, healthy kids!” And Marketing Manager Ann Marie Nocella says, ”Eating better food means staying healthy and living longer.  It means knowing how to grow, choose and prepare foods that are kind to our earth."

Visit www.veggieu.org to learn which schools offer the curriculum, to find out how to bring this program to your child’s school or to purchase the program to use in your own home. 

From Seed to Spoon

A program of The Forest City Weingart Produce Company (a wholesale fruit and vegetable market in downtown Cleveland), From Seed to Spoon seeks to teach children where healthy foods come from and how they make it all the way from the farm to our plate. While the lessons are in part focused on helping children establish healthy eating habits, the program also strives to help children gain a solid understanding of the long journey that our food takes through the process of planting seeds, caring for crops, harvesting them, storing them and transporting them across the country and even across the world.  Children see all the resources, people and effort that is required to grow food and discover why it’s important not to waste it. They learn about the enormous amount of food waste that is created in our country in part by looking at examples of “imperfect” or “ugly” fruits and vegetables that may be a bit misshaped or discolored on the outside, but are perfectly fresh and delicious on the inside. Older students brainstorm ideas for how they can help reduce food waste in order to help our environment and to help improve their community. 

From Seed to Spoon lessons take place at preschools, elementary schools and at after school programs around Northeast Ohio. Visit www.forestcityweingart.com/from-seed-to-spoon to learn more or call 440-409-5520 to schedule a program for your school or organization. 

Girl Scouts & Boy Scouts

Girl Scouting’s mission is to build girls of courage, confidence and character, who make the world a better place. One of the three main focuses of the program is to give girls the chance to “take action”; to do something to make the world a better place. And troops can choose from a series of Journeys, one of which is “It’s Your Planet - Love it!” where girls team up to identify a problem, come up with a creative solution, create a team plan to make that solution a reality, put their plan into action and then talk about what they learned and what they’ll do next.

On this journey to take action and protect our planet, girls and women at all phases of the Girl Scout experience get the opportunity to learn about environmental issues such as clean water, air and noise pollution, global warming, soil contamination and agricultural processes. 

For example, Daisy Scouts learn about nature by visiting parks, farms, and zoos and talk to experts. They take action by doing art projects, planting trees or creating a garden. Brownie Scouts visit lakes, learn about water quality and learn from experts and then put theory into practice by making posters, promoting recycling or planting low-water gardens. Other environmental related Girl Scout activities include energy audits of local buildings, pushing for clean-air initiatives, inspiring others to eat locally, working to improve delivery systems and fighting hunger. 

The Boys Scouts of America also offer similar programming that teach boys to be stewards of the environment. To learn more, visit www.gsneo.org or www.scouting.org

There are many schools and programs doing outstanding work in our community to teach children this valuable lesson about caring for our natural resources. Afterall, the future of our planet is in their hands. Perhaps it was Walt Disney who said it best, “Our greatest natural resource is the minds of our children.”