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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Baby-led Weaning with Real Food: Guest Post

I’ve decided to take a little break from blogging (read more about the reasons why), but wanted to continue to provide interesting and insightful content on my blog in the meantime. I asked for help and my tribe answered my call, so for a while I will have guest posts from various bloggers interspersed with posts by me when I am moved to write. Thank you for your understanding. — Amy (CDG)

Today’s guest post comes from Abbie who blogs at Farmer’s Daughter.

Baby-led Weaning with Real Food

As an advocate for real, healthy, local foods, I was dreading introducing solids to my son.  I just couldn’t imagine having his first food be processed cereal.  I’d also seen jarred baby food and was completely grossed out by it.  Nobody could tell me that those were the best choice for my son’s health; my instincts said we needed to take a different route.  After discussing the topic of introducing solids with some twitter friends, I got recommendations for two books that I love and recommend to all parents:

What I learned was basic — to allow Joshua to choose what he would eat and what he didn’t want to eat; to allow him to feed himself; to offer him plenty of healthy foods to choose from; to put away the food mill and spoon; most importantly, to relax!

Instead of giving bland cereal as a first food, I looked to the season.  Joshua turned six months in September: apple season.  It has always felt appropriate to me that Joshua was a spring baby, and it seemed fitting that Joshua’s first food was applesauce.  Homemade, chunky applesauce made from apples grown on the farm where I grew up, that I picked as I walked through the orchard with my mother and carried Joshua on my back.  While processed cereal didn’t feel right, applesauce sure did.  I spooned a small bit of applesauce into a bowl for Joshua and allowed him to squish it between his fingers to his heart’s content.  He wiped it in his hair and it got on his bib and on the floor.  Not much made it into his mouth, but that didn’t matter.  Breast milk supplies all of the nutrition he needs, and solids at six months are about learning: taste, texture, aroma and hand-eye coordination.

Cold apple slices quickly became a favorite for my teething baby.

Now nine months old, Joshua has sampled all of the following (in no particular order):

  • Fruits: apples, applesauce, banana, avocado, blueberries, raspberries, cranberry-applesauce, dried papaya
  • Veggies: butternut squash, potatoes, broccoli, sweet potatoes, carrots, snap peas, green beans, corn, green squash, cucumber, vegetable broth, salsa, tomato sauce, (sometimes veggies were topped with olive oil or butter)
  • Meats: beef (steak, ground beef), pork (pork chop/roast, sausage), turkey (roasted and ground), chicken, salmon, haddock, scrambeled eggs
  • Dairy: cream-top yogurt (banana, blueberry and peach flavored), sour cream, cheddar cheese, monterey jack cheese, American cheese, cream cheese, butter
  • Bread/grains: toast, pizza crust, whole wheat tortilla, bagel, pasta with and without tomato sauce, Italian bread, pancakes, stuffing, organic puffs and teether biscuits

And most certainly other foods that I’ve forgotten to mention.  At his nine-month check-up, his doctor was impressed that we don’t buy baby food and told me to continue to introduce foods using the baby-led approach.  The doctor said most advice about solids including which foods to offer in which order are based on old wive’s tales and not on sound science, and that holding off on introducing foods such as meats can deprive babies of essential nutrients (like iron, which is more easily absorbed from breastmilk and meats than from fortified cereals).  The only foods he said to wait on are peanuts and peanut butter, honey and cow’s milk.  (For safety information on introducing solids, see the books listed above.)

Joshua loves to feed himself and while this approach is messy, it has been a perfect fit for our family.

Abbie is a wife, mother to one-year-old Joshua, environmentalist and teacher who believes in following her maternal instincts and being a steward to the Earth. She blogs about simple living, sustainability, gardening, cooking and mothering at Farmer’s Daughter.

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Dye Easter Eggs Naturally – A DIY Tutorial

Before you head to the store this weekend to buy your eggs and Easter egg dyeing kits, take a look at this fun and eco-friendly way to dye your eggs naturally with foods and spices like cabbage, blueberries, spinach, tumeric, chili powder and more! It’s a lot of fun for both the kiddos and adults (trust me). ;) My kids and I can’t wait to do this again soon!


So you want to dye your Easter eggs naturally – without harmful chemicals and artificial colors? While it takes longer than the commercial egg dye kits you buy at the store, dyeing your eggs with natural foods is better for you and your child(ren)’s health, produces much more interesting colors, is better for the environment, and is, quite arguably, more fun!

Why dye with natural colors instead of artificial?
According to, “Many food colorings contain color additives such as Red No. 3 and Yellow No. 5, which, according to a 1983 study by the FDA, were found to cause tumors (Red No. 3) and hives (Yellow No. 5).” I wrote about the drawbacks of artificial colors a while back if you’d like to read more on the topic.

It is more time-consuming than using a store-bought conventional egg dye kit (and I highly recommend preparing the egg dye baths a few hours before you plan to dye the eggs with the kiddos), but it is healthier for your kids and the environment. “Dyeing eggs the natural way gives you the opportunity to spend more time with your family, teaching kids to use alternative project methods that are healthier for them and the environment.” I think it will be a lot of fun and a great family project.

You Will Need The Following to Get Started:

  • Hard boiled eggs (preferably white eggs since they take on the dyes better than brown eggs)
  • Ingredients to make your dyes, which I will discuss in more detail below. As a guideline, use up to 4 cups for vegetable solids and 3–4 tablespoons for spices per quart. Mash up fruits.
  • White vinegar (2 Tablespoons for every quart of water)
  • Several pots and bowls
  • Optional: stickers, rubber bands, and crayons for decorating the eggs and making interesting patterns
  • Egg cartons for drying the dyed eggs

Creating Your Colors:

Natural egg dyes can be made from a variety of ingredients. Here’s a list of what I’ve used in the past along with comments on the colors that resulted.


  • 3 cans of beets in cranberry juice (instead of water) – produced a dark reddish hue


  • Frozen cherries – made a very light pink


  • 3 tablespoons of chili powder produced a nice reddish-orange color


  • 3 Tablespoons of tumeric produced a great yellow


  • A mix of canned blueberries and their juice and a few tablespoons of tumeric produced a gorgeous earthy green color


  • 3/4 of a head of red cabbage (chopped) made a beautiful blue


  • 2 cans of blueberries and their juice made a grey-blueish color


  • Frozen cherries mixed with blueberries yielded a grey color (not the purple I was going for).

Egg Dyeing Instructions:
In the past I found a couple great web site with tips on “Natural Easter Egg Dyes” and Natural Dye from The natural dyes come from spices like paprika, tumeric and cumin; vegetables like spinach and red cabbage; fruit juices and even coffee. All of your dye ingredients can (and should) be composted after you are done.

On, there is a boil method (which produces darker results) and a cold-dip method, which is suggested for children or if you plan to eat the eggs, which is the method we used last year.

The two methods for creating your egg dyes are:

Method 1—Hot
Place eggs in a single layer in a large, nonaluminum pan. Add the dyeing ingredient of your choice—it’s best not to mix until you are comfortable with experimenting. Cover the eggs and other dyeing “agent(s)” with one inch of water. Add 2 tablespoons of white vinegar per quart to help the color adhere to the egg, and bring to a boil. Next, simmer for 20–30 minutes or until the desired shade is achieved. If you cook the eggs longer than 15 minutes, they will become rather tough.

Method 2—Cold
The cold method is the same as the hot method with the following exception. Once ingredients have simmered 20–30 minutes (depending on desired shade), lift or strain the ingredients out of the water and allow the water to cool to room temperature though you may wish to try keeping the ingredients in the colored water to give the egg more texture as the dye will become concentrated in areas where the vegetable touches the egg. Submerge the eggs until the desired color is achieved. You may keep the eggs in the solution overnight as long as it is refrigerated.

The longer the egg stays in the dye, hot or cold, the deeper the hue will be. Using vinegar will also help the color deepen.

Definitely feel free to experiment and try out other foods and spices. For me, that was a big part of what made it so much fun, trying out different things to see what colors would come from them. For example, the dye from the spinach, tumeric, blueberry mix looked orange or brown, but the eggs came out green! And the red cabbage dye was purpley-pink, but the eggs came out blue. It’s a fun science experiment that the whole family can get involved in. Happy egg coloring!

Cleaning Up:
Don’t forget to compost your food/spices dye mixtures when you are done.

The process of making the dyes:

The egg dyes on the stovetop Beets in cranberry juice
Red cabbage Tumeric

And the results:

Red and pink eggsYellow and orange eggs
Green eggsBlue eggs

Links to other people’s natural egg dyeing results:

If you dye your eggs naturally this year or have in the past and have blogged about it, leave me your link and I’ll add it to the list! :)

I’m all about recycling around here. This recycled post, “Dyeing Easter Eggs Naturally,” was originally written for my blog on 4/4/09, and continues to be a popular post year after year.

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Plastic Wrapped Bananas: Guest Post

I’ve decided to take a little break from blogging (read more about the reasons why), but wanted to continue to provide interesting and insightful content on my blog in the meantime. I asked for help and my tribe answered my call, so for a while I will have guest posts from various bloggers interspersed with posts by me when I am moved to write. Thank you for your understanding. — Amy (CDG)

Today’s guest post comes from Amy who blogs at An Aussie Mum’s Guide to Eco Friendly Babies.

Plastic Wrapped Bananas. Yes, I’m Serious!

Despite so many people attempting to make a difference for the better, some companies have other ideas. Del Monte have bought out a range of plastic wrapped bananas — to save the environment. Say what? Yes, they claim that the plastic wrapping on the bananas in plastic is “...Designed to provide significant carbon footprint savings by reducing the frequency of deliveries and the amount of waste going to landfill. The packaging is also recyclable.

Looking at the company website suggests the packaged bananas are going into vending machines and convenience stores and will potentially make it easier for people to grab a healthy snack on the go. Surely, there is a better option than non-biodegradable plastic? Even here is Australia, where life is a little slower and so much of the land is still pristine, we are succumbing to the mantra of ‘buy, use, discard’. You can buy ‘healthy’ apple slices from McDonalds- packaged in plastic and dipped in some foul tasting substance to stop browning. Wouldn’t it be cheaper (and eco-friendlier) just to use a whole, unpackaged, untreated apple? There is also the prevalence of cut and packaged vegetables in the supermarkets- celery, carrots, gourmet tomatoes, Asian vegetable mixes and pre-made salads. Are people so inept in the kitchen these days they can’t slice celery? Is there some sort of social benefit to saying “Look, these are upper-class Tomatoes- they come in a packet!”

It’s not just food. If you buy a toaster, you get a whole bunch of Styrofoam, plastic, tie-wires, bubble wrap, warranty cards, brochures for other products (want to buy a coffee machine with that toaster?) and instructions that are 18 pages long because they are in 7 different languages. Retailers receive deliveries that are in boxes three times the needed size and packed with plastic and puffed rice, and usually yet another copy of this months deals (you know, the ones that were sent in the mail, and with the last four orders). The bank who offers e-statements to save paper sends you a quarterly offer for insurance that you already have. In a world where email is so quick and easy, where technology is so advanced, why can’t we start using it for something good? We could email statements, bills, special offers and all the other rubbish that comes through the mail. We can come up with biodegradable, renewal, ecologically sound packaging, or just use some sense and pack smaller and transport less.

Can a single person make a difference? I like to believe so. We can email companies like Del Monte, asking them to come up with a better solution. We can tell suppliers that unless they pack smarter, we will no longer buy from them. We can pressure our schools and encourage our workplaces to adopt ‘nude food’ policies. We can slice our own celery and not buy food with unnecessary wrapping, packagings and labels. We can reduce, reuse, recycle and above all, teach our kids to do the same. After all, it may be one of our kids who eventually heads up a company like Del Monte and finally makes a change… for the better.

Photo credit: Friends Eat

Amy is a working mum of two from Australia. Between her kids (who are nine years apart) she’s been working in the natural health industry, which has opened her eyes to the down side of many aspects of modern life. Since having a new baby she started a journey to find a more natural, holistic way of living. Amy wants to share what she finds with other mums who are looking to change their way of thinking and have happier, healthier, more eco-friendly lives! She blogs at An Aussie Mum’s Guide to Eco Friendly Babies.

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Americans STILL Aren’t Eating Their Veggies

Last month, The New York Times reported that despite 20 years of “public health initiatives, stricter government dietary guidelines, record growth of farmers’ markets and the ease of products like salad in a bag, Americans still aren’t eating enough vegetables.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a comprehensive nationwide behavioral study of fruit and vegetable consumption. Only 26 percent of the nation’s adults eat vegetables three or more times a day, it concluded. (And no, that does not include French fries.)

These results fell far short of health objectives set by the federal government a decade ago. The amount of vegetables Americans eat is less than half of what public health officials had hoped. Worse, it has barely budged since 2000.

The government recommends four and a half cups of fruits and vegetables (which equals nine servings) for people who eat 2,000 calories a day.

People know that vegetables are good for them and can improve health, but they are also seen as a lot of work and have a much quicker “expiration date” than processed foods. Even if you buy veggies with the best of intentions, if you don’t consume them fast enough, they are doomed to rot in your refrigerator. I think this is something we’ve all been guilty of at one time or another. A survey of 1,000 Americans conducted by White Wave Foods indicates that almost half of us leave our fruit in the refrigerator until it rots. I can only assume that even more vegetables suffer a similar fate.

At Mother Nature Network, Katherine Butler asks, “what is the price of not eating vegetables?”

Mostly, it means that Americans are lacking in vital nutrients. Antioxidants and fiber fill vegetables, as well as key nutrients such as potassium, beta-carotene, iron, folate, magnesium, calcium and vitamins A, C, E and K. Fiber can reduce cholesterol; potassium, found in foods like spinach, helps blood pressure. Vitamin C helps gums and teeth, while vitamin E fights against premature aging.

Apparently, orange veggies are something we should be focusing on too. According to The Ohio State University Extension blog:

Orange vegetables, like pumpkin, squash, carrots, and sweet potatoes contain nutrients and phytonutrients found in no other group of vegetables. That’s why experts recommend we eat at least 2 cups a week of orange vegetables. How many do you eat? If you’re not eating enough, now is the perfect time of year to start!  All types of winter squash — acorn, butternut, hubbard, etc. are in season and cheap.  Pumpkins and canned pumpkins are stocking the shelves. Carrots and sweet potatoes are found commonly throughout the year.

I’m not sure there’s a solution for getting adult Americans to consume more vegetables. They know they are healthy, but they still don’t eat them. Even with convenient options like prepackaged servings of broccoli and bagged salads available, they aren’t biting (pun intended). Until Americans make eating vegetables a priority, it’s not going to happen. After all, you can’t force feed them. Maybe we could hide vegetables in french fries? Hmm. Probably not. Although that is a technique some people use to get children to eat their veggies (remember Jessica Seinfeld’s book Deceptively Delicious?), though not everyone agrees with it.

Organic Authority points out the important of fruits and vegetables for children. “A diet high in fruits and vegetables is important for optimal child growth, maintaining a healthy weight, and prevention of chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease and some cancers—all of which currently contribute to healthcare costs in the United States,” says William H. Dietz, MD, PhD, director of the CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity.

Lisa Johnson mentions that some high schools have added baby carrot vending machines next to the typical junk food machines and wonders if the packaging (designed to look similar to a potato chip bag) will entice kids to buy them. Lisa says, “I have to say I think it’s a good idea. It might seem a little condescending to some but we are visual creatures and we react positively to colorful items that grab our attention while glossing over the ho-hum stuff. Shouldn’t we just capitalize on human nature to achieve a greater good?”

The Huffington Post reports “The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced what it called a major new initiative, giving $2 million to food behavior scientists to find ways to use psychology to improve kids’ use of the federal school lunch program and fight childhood obesity.” Some schools are employing psychology tricks in hopes of getting teens to make healthier lunch choices in the cafeteria. Cornell researches have dubbed these little tricks a success: “Keep ice cream in freezers without glass display tops so the treats are out of sight. Move salad bars next to the checkout registers, where students linger to pay, giving them more time to ponder a salad. And start a quick line for make-your-own subs and wraps, as Corning East High School in upstate New York did.”

Perhaps the veggie avoidance can be traced back to infancy. I wrote in 2007 about a study that showed breast-fed babies are more likely to like fruits and vegetables (if their mother ate them while breastfeeding) than their formula-fed counterparts.

Senior author of the study Julie A. Mennella, PhD said, “The best predictor of how much fruits and vegetables children eat is whether they like the tastes of these foods. If we can get babies to learn to like these tastes, we can get them off to an early start of healthy eating. … It’s a beautiful system. Flavors from the mother’s diet are transmitted through amniotic fluid and mother’s milk. So, a baby learns to like a food’s taste when the mother eats that food on a regular basis.”

However, regardless of whether your baby is breast-fed or formula fed, the article points out the importance of offering your baby “plenty of opportunities to taste fruits and vegetables as s/he makes the transition to solid foods by giving repeated feeding exposures to these healthy foods.”

What’s the answer to get Americans to eat their veggies? I vote for focusing on the children. Perhaps if Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution continues, not only will children start eating healthier, but their new habits may rub off on their parents too.

Photo via Masahiro Ihara on Flickr

Cross-posted on BlogHer.

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Harvest time and the great outdoors

I think it should be an unwritten rule that at harvest time crunchy and/or green bloggers get a free pass from blogging because they are spending all of their time in the kitchen baking, canning, freezing, and otherwise preserving all of the yummy foods they’ve grown or purchased (hopefully locally) for the winter.

I’m sorry my blog is suffering lately, but the family and I have been a bit preoccupied doing things like this:

Climbing apple trees at Roger’s Grove

Picking and eating apples

Getting organic food from the co-op

Canning applesauce and dilly beans!

Taking a tractor ride to pick oodles of strawberries at Berry Patch Farms

Exploring the great outdoors at Boulder Creek

Trying to decide what I’m going to do with 60 pounds of Colorado peaches, pears and nectarines! (I still haven’t figured it all out!)

Visiting a honey harvest at Sandstone Ranch

OK, so I haven’t been completely locked in the kitchen. ;) We’ve also been spending quite a bit of time out in nature. The weather’s been gorgeous and its hard to stay indoors. Plus, the kids have so much fun exploring and honestly, I do too. :)

How’s your harvest season going this year? What are you putting up for the winter?

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