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The connection from farm to table has been broken by decades of change in our food system.
The social result of this break in understanding where our food comes from is almost incomprehensible. With increased global food production, cities have become detached from local farms and food resources. In turn, local farms have been separated from the urban community and they struggle to find alternative ways to sell their produce locally rather than corporately over long distances. Urban residents may not have access to a diverse range of fruits and vegetables at an affordable price, and supermarkets that are increasingly built on the periphery of town make regular access to fresh fruit and vegetables difficult to those living in the city. This lack of access to nutritionally-sound food in urban areas contributes to poverty-related poor health. While our food system continues in this manner, our society faces a myriad of challenges. One of the greatest challenges is the health crisis of childhood obesity.
Not only are children overweight because of their sedentary lifestyles, they are overweight because they no longer have a healthy relationship with food. Many kinds of food are always available in the local supermarket, so our children no longer understand the seasons in which food is grown. Beyond that, our children rarely make the connection between their health and the importance of fresh vegetables and foods because of the use, marketing and availability of heavily processed food products.
But ironically, our children are not only overweight, they are also severely malnourished. I am not speaking of physical malnourishment due to the rampant poverty that affects children in urban and rural communities—although it is a factor. Children of all socioeconomic status are hungry for more. They are hungry for more than the emptycalorie foods that can be found at the local convenience store or in the vending machine in the hallway at the local middle school.
Our children are starving for a sense of community, family, and sense of belonging to a greater purpose. They don’t know it, but they are craving the companionship that comes from sitting down together at the dinner table at the end of the day; enjoying not only food together, but the companionship that comes with sharing a meal with one another.
Like many communities in Michigan, in Grand Rapids we are rebuilding kids’ relationship with food from the ground up. One motto is “Let them eat what they grow!” Concerned parents and citizens, educators, corporations, nonprofit organizations, health officials, and policy makers are working together to make positive change in the school environments, including establishing school vegetable gardens and kitchen classrooms in the schools.