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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

You, Too, Can Go Local: Eating Close to Home Is Eating Green

Helpful resources for those curious about sustainability.
By Grace Rubenstein

It's hard not to be enticed by the benefits of local, sustainably produced food -- it's fresh, nutritious, good for small businesses, easy on the eco-footprint, and, of course, yummy. However, putting those good intentions to buy local into practice is another matter. Food cultivated locally and on a small scale can be much harder to find than the Chilean-grown blueberries or mass-produced eggs available in abundance at your usual franchise grocery store.

Despair not -- here is a list of resources to help you go local, and even get your students involved, too.

  • Sustainable Table: This mother lode of resources on the ills of mass production and the means to avoid it features such helpful primers as "What Is Sustainable Agriculture?" and "3 Steps to Sustainability," plus a Sustainable Dictionary for those new to the lingo. Classroom-friendly features include podcasts and a farm-bill study guide. The associated Eat Well Guide contains a listing of sustainable food businesses by ZIP code. The Meatrix, a Sustainable Table online production, offers an interactive library of information on factory farming and a trilogy of kid-friendly animated shorts starring Moopheus, a sunglasses-sporting, raspy-voiced cow.
  • Local Harvest: This truly national resource provides a directory of family farms, community-supported agriculture (farm-to-door delivery) programs, restaurants, grocery stores, and other sources of sustainably grown food by ZIP code (Hawaii and Alaska included). The site also publishes event listings, a monthly newsletter, and a catalog of mail-order products from family farmers. You'll find flowers, preserves, coffee, yarn, and fruit among the offerings.
  • Locavores: Although this site is Bay Area-based, it contains a useful hierarchy of levels of localness ("if not locally produced, then organic; if not organic, then family farm") for those who live elsewhere. Wise Food Ways, another site by the same Locavores, lists cooking classes and other events around the Bay Area, in Minneapolis/St. Paul, throughout New York (city and state), and in New England. It also features seasonal recipes, like cream of parsnip soup and asparagus frittata.
  • Slow Food U.S.A.: "We seek to catalyze a broad cultural shift away from the destructive effects of an industrial food system and fast life," explains Slow Food U.S.A. The American branch of this international organization espouses that "pleasure and quality in everyday life can be achieved by slowing down, respecting the convivial traditions of the table, and celebrating the diversity of the Earth's bounty." The group conducts a "taste education" for all ages and runs hands-on food projects in schools to connect children more closely with their food sources. The site contains links to 160 local chapters and provides information on how to "live slow."
  • FoodRoutes: This national organization provides tools and support to groups creating community-based food systems. Its online resources include research data and "Buy Local" campaign toolkits -- a student-leadership opportunity, perhaps?
  • The Food Project: This Massachusetts nonprofit organization works with teens and adult volunteers to farm 31 acres in rural Lincoln, plus several urban plots in Boston. It donates half of its quarter-million-pound crop to local shelters and sells the rest through community-supported agriculture (CSA) and farmers' markets. It's about more than the food, though -- the site contains resources on getting youth involved with local agriculture, and organizers contend that their hands-on educational model can engage kids with any kind of project, agricultural or otherwise.
Grace Rubenstein is a senior producer at Edutopia.

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