In the past couple of weeks, we, the new education interns, have begun a workshop series as an extension of the Sunday gardening program. We meet on Friday nights at CIW, when we teach and learn with a group of about 15 women.
In the series, we plan to cover gardening, the environment, and health—and how they all relate. (As time goes on, and as we gauge the women’s interests, the subject matter may change a little.) In the gardening unit, we’ll discuss planting and eating seasonally, what organic actually means, what’s growing in CIW’s garden, and how to plant in order to optimize soil health. In the environmental unit, we’ll cover food distribution, national and global food politics, how to be environmentally friendly on a budget, and how the food industry (especially the fast food industry) affects the environment. In the health unit, we’ll cover diabetes, the state of the nation’s health today, and the nutrition behind the food we consume.
During the first workshop, Jody showed an interview between Morgan Spurlock (producer of Super Size Me) and Eric Schlosser (author of Chew On This), and led a discussion about fast food. The group talked about their experiences with fast food, the perceived benefits of fast food chains, and the actual cost of fast food to one’s health and the environment. The group left knowing that while fast food may have a cheap sticker price, it’s costly in the long term to the nation, one’s body, and the environment.
During the second workshop, the women inside CIW watched the first half of Fresh, an inspirational film about America’s food system, its consequences, and its sustainable alternatives. They took note of what most interested them, what surprised them, and what questions they had—and this served as fodder for the following week’s discussion. We happened to focus mostly on industrial vs. small farms. We talked about the cost of industrial food production to us (with a note about governmental subsidies), to the environment (and how monocultures and CAFOs go against anything nature ever intended), and to our health (bacterial resistance, exposure to pesticides and hormones, etc.). Then, two weeks ago, we screened the last half of Fresh, and wrapped up our discussion. We concentrated on the efforts of activist Will Allen of Growing Power, an organization in Milwaukee’s inner city, concentrating on what it takes to have a successful movement and what it means to be a part of the food justice movement. We also covered food deserts, access to food, urban gardens, and our responsibilities as consumers. We looked at some really inspirational stories of people who have planted gardens in inner cities, and talked about the importance of these gardens.
Once our thoughts on Fresh had been wrapped up, we moved on to organics. Last Friday, everyone shared her individual definition of “organic,” and then we compared those definitions with definitions provided by both the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the farmers and activists who originally coined the term. We reviewed common misconceptions about organic food and its production; brainstormed the benefits of buying organic foods; and considered some benefits we hadn’t considered before (like organic tastes way better!). One of the women recalled growing up on local and seasonal produce, because nothing else was available—produce wasn’t yet being imported. Today, she said, the produce doesn’t taste nearly as delicious (even though they do get watermelon in winter), because so much of it is imported from abroad. After making these comparisons, we listed the most and least pesticide-contaminated produce, emphasizing that the produce sprayed the most is best to avoid, and be substituted with the organic version. These lists can act as guidance for those who would like to support organic but are buying on a budget, and need to choose when to buy organic and when to forego it.