This post is part two in a monthly series titled Living our Values: first-hand accounts written by Grow Pittsburgh staff members illustrating the centrality of our organizational values in guiding our daily work.
In November, we’re highlighting our value of Food Sovereignty, which dictates that we are “supporting everyone’s right to access, produce and distribute healthy and culturally appropriate food”.
Read more from Farm to School Coordinator, Victoria Thurmond, on how she prioritizes this value in her work and stay tuned in the coming months as we continue to feature how we’re #LivingOurValues:
“Does everyone in Pittsburgh have equal access to food?”
This is one of the first questions we ask students before lessons in our Learning Garden Program. Each time, students almost unanimously say no. This reality is not something that is unique to Pittsburgh, but in my job, I see it every day. In Pittsburgh Public Schools (PPS), all students are provided a free breakfast and lunch, but those may be their only meals for the day.
My job is to help make the connection between the food students eat in the cafeteria to what we grow in our Learning Gardens, and what is bought in the grocery store or cooked. At Grow Pittsburgh, we support everyone’s right to access, produce and distribute nutritious and culturally appropriate food. With the plethora of regulations and policies in place for school meals, this is not always easy to accomplish.
I recently visited the PPS Central Kitchen and was able to see the process that goes into providing meals for thousands of students on a daily basis. Given the number of students and schools served, meals have to be prepared in such a way that relies heavily on conveyor belts and a lot of big machinery. It was a level of industrialization of food that I hadn’t seen in person before.
There are amazing people working at the PPS Central Kitchen who are making great strides toward healthier and more sustainable choices for students. They are bringing in pots and tools that will allow more cooking from scratch, and working on new recipes like soups and vegetable-based dishes. This year, the central kitchen introduced spices to the vegetables and now students are tasting these vegetables cooked from scratch with the new seasonings in their cafeterias and are able to vote on them. There is also an effort to procure more local produce for school meals.
I’m part of the wonderful school garden team here at Grow Pittsburgh, and I have been amazed by how much the students get out of their garden ventures. Students get to plant, harvest, prepare food from the garden, save seeds and more. The students who have access to the gardens tend to have a much better understanding of where their food is coming from. I’m working on making that connection a reality for all students in our city. Even with all the regulations on school food, we’re trying to get the story out to students that someone grew, chose, and cooked those vegetables and that they have the power to do that as well.