Chicago schools’ garden produce forbidden in the lunchroom

A school garden can be a wonderful outdoor classroom. Children can learn a variety of subjects while working with others to grow their own food. But in some school districts the children have the gardens to grow the food, but are forbidden from eating it in their lunchrooms.

When I first read that the Chicago Public Schools are not able to use the produce grown in their more than 40 school gardens in the lunchroom, I was shocked. Why grow it if you can’t consume it? The truth is that due to rules set by the district and its meal provider the food must be either given away, sent home with students, or sold.

“In order to use food in the school food program, it would need to meet specific/certified growing practices,” CPS spokeswoman Monique Bond said.

These requirements would include eliminating all “pesticides and insecticide” applications and using only “commercially prepared organic compost and fertilizers,” said Bob Bloomer, regional vice president of Chartwells-Thompson.

Commercial vendors, though, don’t have to abide by these rules. They can sell the district produce treated with several pesticides and grown in nonorganic fertilizer.

But produce grown by the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences on its 25-acre farm wouldn’t make the grade because, for example, it treats its corn with a single pesticide.

The school district touts using some local produce in its lunch program, but the produce that is most local of all — grown right outside their doors — is off limits. Children are being denied the most local and fresh produce of all. How does that make any sense?

According to the CDC, more than one-third of U.S. adults (over 72 million people) and 17% of U.S. children are obese. For Chicago children ages 6-11, the obesity rate is 28%. So in an area where more and more children are overweight or obese and, as evidenced in Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, some American first graders can’t identify vegetables, the system is denying them healthy, local food.

Unfortunately, this is happening other school districts as well. Sybil who blogs at Musings of a Milk Maker told me on Facebook that this is also the case at the public school she is trying to get her daughter into.

Andrea Ward isn’t surprised by any of this. She had this to say on Facebook, “Lunch food is a big time business with big time rules and greed. Education is never about the kids (unless you are the one in the trenches–then that’s all you care about). Otherwise, it’s about politics. And politics is about money.”

However, other school districts across the country, such as Auburn School District in Washington state, have been able to adopt a garden to cafeteria plan. The school district’s 1 1/2 acre organic garden and orchard produces “fruits and vegetables for student lunches and snacks in 10 elementary schools. In addition to garden produce, the Auburn School District purchases from local farmers for all 22 schools.” This single garden produces food for all elementary schools during the growing and harvesting seasons.

Joanne White who blogs at Media Mum told me about her son’s elementary school in the Boulder Valley School District, Colo., where the school garden provides produce for its own salad bar. Joanne said, “The kids are fully involved from garden to table. No way Jamie Oliver would find any of them not knowing what a tomato is!”

In other school districts, the students eat what they grow, but not necessarily in the lunchroom, however not for the same reasons that the Chicago Public School District gave.

Karen from Eternal Maternal said her son participated in a school garden program at his elementary school located in Vancouver School District in Washington State. The children ate what they grew, but due to a variety of reasons including not enough of any one ingredient, lack of preparation time, etc., the produce was not used in the school cafeteria. Karen said, “I think it’s very important that kids learn where their food comes from and what it takes to get it to the point that it can be eaten. Providing food for oneself is a basic need. Typically, we don’t have to do it for ourselves until we’re in college and what do we do then? Go to the grocery store and buy a case of Ramen. When children learn to grow food that can sustain themselves, even if only partially, it gives them a sense of accomplishment, raises their awareness of the environment and, whether they realize it or not, raises their level of security because it’s a way they know of to care for themselves.”

At Stylin Momma Katy’s daughter’s charter elementary school in Maryland, all of the children participate in the school garden in one way or another. Her daughter is in kindergarten where they are in charge of pollination. The garden food is not used in the school cafeteria food (which is brought in) and most students bring lunches from home. However, Katy said, “they will sometimes have a sampling station in the lunchroom where the kids can try the foods picked from the garden, or they will use it in cooking class. They also have a school produce stand as a fundraiser.”

After hearing about the practices of different school districts, I have to say I find the reasoning behind Chicago Public School District’s ban on garden food in the lunchroom appalling. I have to agree with Andrea above who said, “it’s about politics. And politics is about money.” If the district had these kids’ best interests at heart, they would find a way to allow the locally grown garden food into the cafeterias.

Despite all of this, I am pleased to hear that many districts — especially inner-city districts like Chicago — have implemented school gardens. Perhaps even if the children are not allowed to eat the food in the lunchroom, they still are learning the valuable life lesson of how to grow it and perhaps are able to take some of it home to their families to enjoy.

Do your children have a school garden? Does the school use the produce in their lunchroom? How do you feel about Chicago’s policy?

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Photo credits: Flickr StevenDePolo and Sarz.K

Cross-posted on BlogHer

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Confessions of a first-time BlogHer attendee

My first BlogHer experience is over with and I’m left wondering how it can already be done. While at times it seemed like the weekend would never end (or rather that I would never sleep again), it also seemed to go by in a blur. I already miss the women I got to know better over the weekend – women who are more than just blogging buddies, but who are friends. I decided to compile a list of sorts with some of the things from the conference that surprised me, made me smile, had me laughing out loud, saddened me and even made me cry. Without further ado, here are my BlogHer confessions.

Once my husband and kids dropped me off at the Denver airport Thursday afternoon for my trip to BlogHer ’09 in Chicago, I didn’t really have any anxiety the whole weekend. I did take 1/2 Xanax Thursday night, but only because, after lying in bed for hours, I could not fall asleep and I was hoping it would make me tired enough to finally crash. It did.

I don’t usually dress the way I did at BlogHer. I rarely accessorize, but I wore a necklace every day I was there – sometimes two different necklaces in one day. I bought nearly everything I wore there new (or second-hand) before the trip. I definitely used BlogHer as an excuse to get myself some new duds.

Thanks to Twitter, I found another BlogHer attendee to share a cab with to the Sheraton and, during the drive, discovered we had quite a bit in common.

Annie from PhDinParenting and me
Annie from PhDinParenting and me

My roommate Annie was much taller than I expected her to be. She was also very nice, considerate and quiet as a mouse when she woke up in the morning before me.

Allie from No Time for Flash Cards, Casey from The Beautiful Letdown and Jenni from Zrecommends
Allie from No Time for Flash Cards, Casey from The Beautiful Letdown and Jenni from Zrecommends

Three of the women I hung out with the most (other than my roomie) were Jenni, Allie and Melissa, although there were so many others that I met up with for a couple seconds, to a few minutes, to several hours. In other words, way too many names/blogs to list. Just know I enjoyed meeting every single one of you. I have no complaints!

I often felt torn on who I should spend my time with. There were so many fabulous women and so many places to go and only so many hours in the day/night that it was hard to pick where to go and who to hang with.

When “they” tell you you don’t have to go to every session and you should take time to just chill and relax during the conference, believe it. The weekend, while amazing, was incredibly exhausting and I wish I would have purposefully scheduled in a nap or two.

I confess I didn’t recognize some people who introduced themselves to me. However, upon going home and seeing their Twitter avatar or going to their blog, it then clicked who they were. A-ha! I think everyone should have their Twitter avatar on their name badge. It would make identification so much easier. :)

I approached a few women thinking I knew them, but it turned out I did not. It was fine though. I’d rather say, “Hi, do I know you?” than regret never asking.

I didn’t take nearly enough pictures, but I’m happy with the ones I did take.

Katja from Skimbaco Lifestyle and me at Bowlher
Katja from Skimbaco Lifestyle and me at Bowlher

I teared up after running into Katja on the elevator and then having a chat about our past struggles with anxiety in the hallway (after she teared up). Chatting with her was one of the highlights of my trip.

I dripped “juice” from my chicken sandwich down my shirt and into my cleavage while enjoying room service on my bed Friday night. Even though my bra had dried “juice” on it, I wore it on Saturday too.

I woke up with a killer headache and threw up once twice Saturday morning and didn’t emerge from my room until noon. I don’t see how I could have been hungover (since I only drank two and a half glasses of wine the night before), but I think the combination of getting very little sleep for several days, not eating the kinds of food I’m used to, and having so much going on just all caught up with me. Thankfully, once I got a little food to stay in my belly, I was fine the rest of the time.

Sommer from Green and Clean Mom and me
Sommer from Green and Clean Mom and me

I was surprised by how much fun I had with Sommer and Jennifer Friday night. They were both a riot! I laughed so hard my face hurt.

I was kind of disappointed by some of the breakout sessions I attended. I walked out of one of them (I felt the content was seriously lacking) and felt another one I went to was rather lacking too.

Inspiring green bloggers - Maryanne from MCMilker, Beth from Fake Plastic Fish, Lisa from Condo Blues, and Lynn from Organic Mania
Inspiring green bloggers - Maryanne from MCMilker, Beth from Fake Plastic Fish, Lisa from Condo Blues, and Lynn from Organic Mania

I surprised myself by raising my hand to talk into the microphone during the Green Blogging session. Public speaking didn’t kill me! (Though it did make my heart race for a few minutes.) I hope to write more about the green blogging session (which was easily my favorite) at a later time.

I packed way more clothes than I wore, but forgot to pack my toothbrush and razor. Thankfully, the front desk had both.

I didn’t have to pump the entire weekend, but I did manually express milk a couple times. Never got engorged – thank goodness.

I didn’t make it to either of the BlogHer sponsored cocktail parties.

I watched too much HGTV on the plane ride home and have all kinds of projects in mind for myself (and ones we will need to spend good $ on) on how to stage our home for selling next year. Just what I need – more projects!

I was surprised by how excited and crazed some women seemed to get about swag (free stuff). The consumption and waste I witnessed at times throughout the weekend saddened and frustrated me.

Although I rarely drink soda (pop), I had a Pepsi at lunch on Saturday to help me recovery from my headache and upset stomach. It was one of the only things that sounded good.

I was pleasantly surprised that a few women deliberately checked in on me to see how I was doing (with my anxiety and all). I thought that was super sweet of them.

I was also surprised that The Blog Frog wanted to do a short video interview with me.

I didn’t really truly miss my kids until I was on the plane ride home. Then I missed them terribly and couldn’t get home fast enough. (For the record, Jody and the kids did great without me.)

A small piece of me hoped my 2.5 year old son Julian might forget how to nurse while I was gone. He remembered and I was honestly relieved.

Jenni from Zrecommends, me, Ivy, Steph from Adventures in Babywearing, and Tara from Feels Like Home
Jenni from Zrecommends, me, Ivy, Steph from Adventures in Babywearing, and Tara from Feels Like Home

I was surprised by how many amazing, talented, funny, inspiring, sweet, eco-conscious, adorable blogging women (including several local bloggers from Colorado) I kept running into and yet I still left the conference with a long list (in my head) of more I never got to meet. (Next year, right?)

Annie - PhDinParenting, Jenni - Zrecommends, and I on the red carpet at Bowlher
Annie - PhDinParenting, Jenni - Zrecommends, and me on the red carpet at Bowlher

Someone told me that as soon as BlogHer ended this year, I would already be looking forward to doing it all over again next year. She was right. BlogHer ’10 is in New York City (be sure to register early so you get in before it’s sold out) and I’m already planning on being there.

For those of you looking for more pictures, check out my BlogHer09 flickr stream.

Lastly, thank you sooooo much to my sponsor Stonyfield Farm and their organic Oikos Greek Yogurt for helping me with my trip expenses. I really appreciate it! (And everyone I gave an Oikos Greek Yogurt coupon to was thrilled.) :)

Edited to add: Oops! One last thing! I got so many compliments on my photo cuff bracelet at BlogHer and I wanted to tell anyone who’s interested in getting one where you can buy them – Check out Smoy.net. Wonder if I can get them to sponsor me next year. Ya think? :)

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BlogHer 2009 or bust???*

BlogHer '09 In Real Life
*Alternately titled: My Neuroses About BlogHer
Last year, as a blogging friend of mine and I sat at home on our computers attending BlogHer in Second Life instead BlogHer in real life in San Francisco, we made a pact that we would do whatever it takes to get us to the BlogHer Conference in 2009. Neither of us have yet to experience the awesomeness that is the BlogHer conferences. Sure, last year we participated in some of the BlogHer in Second Life events and that was a lot of fun, but nothing, I can only imagine, like actually attending the conference IN REAL LIFE, WITH REAL WOMEN.

Unfortunately, life circumstances beyond her control have made it difficult if not impossible for my friend to attend BlogHer this year. I really wanted to go with her, but I understand that there’s just not anything she can do to change it for this year.

I, on the other hand, was told yesterday that CEs (BlogHer contributing editors) had just one day left to register for the conference. Still unsure whether or not I would make it to Chicago in July, I filled out my registration, held my breath, and hit send. For all intents and purposes I could be at BlogHer in July. I’m now registered! But I can’t say with 100% certainty that I will be there.

I’m still working on some health issues and while I’m definitely seeing improvement and am pretty sure I will be doing a lot better by July, it’s always a crap shoot, ya know?

Also, due to the fact that my good friend can’t attend, I have no idea who I could room with. I wanted to stay with someone I’ve known in person, who really knows me (more than just what I put out on my blog). That’s not an option at this point, so what do I do? Post a BlogHer roomie want-ad and hope that I get someone I’m compatible with? Am I making too big of a deal out of the roomie situation? Does who you room with really matter?

I worry too that going without a close friend will leave me to fend for myself, something I’m not the best at doing. I’ve never been a social butterfly. I worry that everyone will already have their groups of friends they hang out with and that I won’t find a group to be a part of. Again, it’s probably silly, right? But it’s a fear of mine nonetheless.

My other concern is over how my son (who will be 2 1/2 at the time) will do without na-na (nursing) for the several days I’ll be gone. It will be my first time ever being away from my kids overnight. We’re working on night weaning with Julian right now and I don’t think that will be an issue come July, but what about nursing during the day? Maybe he’ll decide he’s done while I’m gone. Maybe that will be OK. Maybe he will start back up again when I return. Oh, there are so many questions.

And then there’s the question of how will I pay for my trip? Should I try to secure a sponsor or two to help with airfare and hotel? It certainly would make going a lot easier if I had some help paying for it. It all just seems so overwhelming.

I know, logically, that my kids will be fine, that my husband Jody is totally capable of caring for them in my absence. I know too that I could be fine at BlogHer. I might be nervous. There might be some uncomfortable moments for me, but I think that overall it would be an amazing experience. I mean, that’s why I wanted to go in the first place, right? To experience the awesomeness of it all. To meet the many women I’ve corresponded with only virtually over my past 4 years of blogging. To learn more about writing and to be inspired to be a better blogger (something I could really use as of late).

So what do you all think? Am I up for a trip to Chicago this summer or should I just lock myself in a padded cell? Will you be there (at BlogHer, not in my cell)? Do you want to sponsor me? And does anyone need a roommate? ;)

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Lastly, please welcome Crunchy Domestic Goddess’s newest advertiser Turtle Park Tots. Jennifer, the owner of Turtle Park Tots, is a mom of two boys (similar in age to my two kids) and lives near me in Denver. Please stop by and check out her selection of organic bibs, changing pads, and baby and toddler blankets.