Cultivating veggies and attitudes

By: Lotta Liuksiala

Kids are funny. They bring a beam of impulsivity and unpredictability to our lives. Youtube is full of clips of kids doing their best to embarrass their parents and every parent has at least a couple of stories to tell from the times when their kids were young and stupid. And let’s admit it, a part of us wishes they would stay like that forever.

Sometimes, however, the things kids say go beyond funny to be worrying signals of the current state of our society. A research that was conducted in UK in 2010 revealed that kids have no idea about the origins of their food. Only one in four knew that beef comes from cattle. Some kids thought that eggs come from sheep and cheese from butterflies. Cute? Yes. Disturbing? Yes!

Not knowing about where food comes from has a surprisingly sinister effect on our behavior. Research shows that the less people know about the food production process, the more they throw away food. Science has also shown that throwing away food is not a minor issue. The amount of perfectly edible food thrown away on our planet, would be enough to secure enough food to feed all the starving people. Also, food waste is a big emitter of greenhouse gases. Even the environmental burden by the packaging is not comparable to organic waste itself. Wasting a single slice of ham creates as much emissions as was created in the manufacturing process of the packaging.

On the frontier of re-establishing the long lost link between consumers and producers of food is the urban farming movement. Urban farming includes all activities that aim for producing food in an urban environment. It can take place on balconies, wastelands, rooftops or where ever there is free soil available. Of course, urban farming is nothing new as a phenomenon. As long as there has been cities, people have been farming there. But never before has the biggest goal been spreading an intangible message. The renaissance of urban farming in western societies aims at educating people about food, making cities greener and reducing the dependency of oil (for example in fertilizers). The food itself has become a symbol of a far greater goal. Growing pumpkins in your balcony can be a start to a new kind of revolution.

But back to kids. They are after all our future. In their everyday life, kids encounter a variety of knowledge sharing systems. These systems can consist of formal institutions like school, commercial actors and home environment. Urban farming movement is focused on home as the most effective leverage point to change attitudes and behavior. Since the movement still has a relatively informal status and is based on voluntary actions of people, it refuses to become part of commercial or formal reality of institutions. There is some sense to this. Although kids are highly reactive to marketing communication and commercial messages, the long term values are created in home environment.

It seems that urban farming is on the right track when it comes to changing city kids’ attitudes towards food. As in so many problems of the youth of today, it’s the adults that seem to be the root course for the problem. Getting kids excited about crawling around in mud and planting veggies seems like a no-brainer. Kids love mud. And they love experiencing new things, like seeing a seed that they planted growing into something they can eat. It’s the parents that need to be convinced that urban farming is FUN.