I recently attended the 2016 Green Schools Conference and Expo hosted by the Center for Green Schools. This conference brought together green schools thought leaders to advance the shared vision of green schools for all within this generation.
The conference examined many aspects of green schools – from green playgrounds to educational programs and even school nutrition. I was honored to participate on a panel discussing this topic and how reducing food waste can help.
Today, I’m pleased to turn my blog over to Rachel Gutter, Director of the Center for Green Schools. She’ll put this panel and school nutrition in perspective as a critical part of student success.
This year has already shaped up to be an incredible year for the green schools movement. At the end of March, more than 600 thought leaders and educators joined us in Pittsburgh for the Green Schools Conference & Expo.
It was only fitting that we met in the City of Bridges, at the confluence of three rivers, to celebrate the progress we have made toward putting every student in a healthy, safe and efficient school, and to set our sights to our future contributions.
Just as the three rivers powered the steel industry and brought Pittsburgh its livelihood for decades, so too do the three pillars of a green school form the lifeblood of our movement: minimizing the impact of schools on the environment and reducing consumption and waste; enhancing the health, well-being and performance of students, teachers and staff; and ensuring that graduates understand what it means to live a sustainable life and care for the planet.
Over the course of two inspiring days that convened participants from all over the country and the world, we heard from several amazing leaders. The event was bookended with an opening from USGBC’s CEO and Founding Chair Rick Fedrizzi, whose vision has powered USGBC’s commitment to green schools since the very beginning, and a closing from Columbia University’s Dr. Chris Emdin, whose passion ignited the crowd and challenged us to fix the inequity embedded in our education system. Adam Brumberg of Cornell University’s Food and Brand Lab and Greg Christian of Beyond Green Partners, both featured master speakers, encouraged us to think critically about what it means to transform food systems in K-12 schools.
Food was a topic front and center at the conference as an issue that cuts across all three pillars. Schools represent a tremendous opportunity to improve student health and well-being, reduce food waste globally, and teach students about the correlation between food, community and climate. We were fortunate to feature an esteemed panel of local heroes and global experts who represented the whole spectrum of impact that school food has, not just in the context of the green schools movement, but also in the lives of students and their families.
Panelists included Jennifer Flanagan, executive director and founder of Community Kitchen Pittsburgh (CKP), an organization that provides thousands of meals each day to supporters of Pittsburgh’s underserved communities. Jennifer brought forth a solution in action. CKP’s innovative Project Lunch Tray program pairs students with local chefs and challenges them to design a nutritious, delicious and affordable lunch menu that meets USDA guidelines and price points. And because no food-focused event can do without a culinary showdown, students who participated in this year’s Project Lunch Tray hosted a tasting for conference attendees.
We were also joined by Dr. Robert Lawrence, founding director of the Center for a Livable Future at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Dr. Lawrence believes that shifting attitudes and palates toward healthy food must start early, even before children are school-aged. This idea, what Dr. Lawrence calls “taste acquisition,” is one of the main reasons why nutrition education for families is so important to addressing the broader issue of school food systems.
Leah Lizarondo, co-founder and CEO of 412 Food Rescue, shared her perspective as a boots on the ground operative working to cut food surplus and redirect it to feed the hungry. 412 Food Rescue’s real-time, innovative technology model matches food donors to beneficiaries. Leah talked about her organization’s focus on nourishing students outside of school, educating families about healthy eating, and like Dr. Lawrence, emphasized why habits at home are a large part of the transformation equation.
Rounding out our panel was John Mandyck, an internationally recognized voice at the intersection of food waste, hunger and climate change. John brought a global perspective on the correlation between food waste and sustainability, and helped shed light on where opportunities lie for schools. When you consider that food waste makes up nearly a quarter of total waste generated by schools, the impacts are tremendous. John reminded us that there are environmental consequences to food waste, not just in terms of a carbon footprint, but also in terms of water and energy used for production and transportation. Every small step is going to make a difference, he said, and schools play an important role in educating children about the implications of waste and the importance of conservation – lessons and questions that they can then start bringing up at home. Attendees of this year’s conference will be able to deepen their understanding of all of these exciting challenges even after they leave Pittsburgh, thanks to UTC and their generous donation of copies of John’s book, Food Foolish, to conference participants.
Our expert panelists helped us envision what the transformation of food systems in K-12 schools can look like: it looks like students arriving at school well-fed and ready to take on their morning; it looks like a tasty, well-balanced lunch tray; it looks like tons of good food, milk and water diverted from landfills and delivered into the hands of those who need it most; it looks like families coming together around their table to eat a nutritious meal. It is a big vision, but an attainable one if we approach it collectively.
There are so many organizations doing great work around this aspiration to transform the relationship students have when it comes to feeding themselves, their families and the planet. The Center for Green Schools will continue to work hand in hand with public and private partners to address the systemic cultural and resource challenges pose barriers to true transformation. Having nourished our minds, we move forward with a renewed fire in our bellies - a deeper, stronger conviction to the belief that where we learn matters.