5 Ways to Bring Sustainable Food Understanding into Your School

Julie Willcott on episode 285 of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast

Julie Wilcott talks about how we can bring sustainable food systems and understanding into our schools with these five simple ideas.

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Below is an enhanced transcript, modified for your reading pleasure. All comments in the shaded green box are my own. For guests and hyperlinks to resources, scroll down.


Enhanced Transcript

5 Ways to Bring Sustainable Food Systems into Your School

Link to show: www.coolcatteacher.com/e285
Date: Friday, April 6, 2018

Vicki: Happy Five Idea Friday! Today we’re talking to Julie Willcott @WillcottJulie about five ideas for helping integrate sustainable food systems into our schools.

Now I have to admit, this is a subject near and dear to my heart. I am a farmer’s daughter. I grew up working on the farm, and I just love the outdoors and the country life.

So, Julie, how can we bring in sustainable food systems into our schools? I mean, is this something you have to be in the county to do or not?

Julie: Oh, absolutely you don’t have to be in the country. There’s so much, because obviously we all eat! I have had the good fortune to teach greenhouse management at the high school level, and I now teach a course about sustainable food production at the community college level. A lot of the ideas work really for any age level.

Vicki: What’s our first?

The Lexicon of Sustainability

Julie: Well, our first idea is called the Lexicon of Sustainability, and this is actually a PBS web series that you can access through the internet. There’s video, there is an absolutely gorgeous book and gallery of artwork for this Lexicon of Sustainability. And what that’s about is, in order to talk about food production, let’s talk about some of the basic terminology.

One way to do this is to take images and overlay content onto them. That doesn’t sound nearly as exciting as the beautiful pictures will show you. But it’s an assignment I do with my students because I do live in rural Maine. I often ask them to take pictures themselves, but anybody can find pictures of food and talk about its production in a very artistic way.

Vicki: What kind of things are they overlaying, like where it came from, or that sort of thing?

Julie: For example, my students took a picture of an apple orchard, and it was their kids picking apples in an apple orchard. Then they overlaid some terminology like, “Here’s where the bees would be pollinating,” and “Here’s where the cider is pressed,” and that type of thing. Go to the website and look at the imagery, because it’s the imagery that is so exciting.

Vicki: Awesome! And we will add this to the Shownotes. You definitely want to look at those enhanced Shownotes over on the blog. OK, what’s our second idea, Julie?

Stories of Meals

Julie: So, another idea I use with my students is I have them create what I call Stories of Meals. Again, they start with an image of a meal, and they pick out what are some of the ingredients? I usually have them focus on major ingredients, but it’s also interesting to look at spices and other minor ingredients. Then they figure out where those items were produced, and then they put all this information onto a map. So, you could use a Google Map, for instance, and you start looking at how far food has traveled to get to you.

So, if you have pork, maybe you find out that your pork is coming from the Midwest. And those spices obviously are going to have traveled a long distance, and maybe you have some potatoes that are from just down the road.

So, it gives them that ability to kind of research where things are produced – at least where they’re commonly reproduced – and sometimes to kind of hunt for thing that are produced locally, and then look at those distances, because the average food is traveling a long distance to get to our plate.

Vicki: Love that, and the awareness it creates, of just our interconnected world and just as well as agriculture. OK, what’s our third?

Design and Build a Greenhouse

Julie: So, my students were able to both Design and Build a Greenhouse. That is understandably a huge project. We were able to get some grant funding, and my students literally did everything from calling the hardware store to ask how much components cost, to leveling the ground, and putting the plastic on it.

But there is really an easier way to do this in a classroom without all the funding or – quite frankly – the space to do it, and that is you can make model greenhouses and use them. They can be made from wood or cardboard, and you can put plastic over some hoops, and you can grow a little tray of food in it.

So, I’ve shared with you a slideshow about our big project, but in it are some pictures of these model greenhouses. My students started out making the model greenhouses before they built the full size one, but again, thing about doing it right in your classroom. Here in Maine, where I live, greenhouse production is a big deal, because as we go into the winter months it allows us to have fresh food.

Vicki: Awesome. OK, what’s our fourth?

Get Out into the Community

Julie: The fourth idea is important for so many content areas, but for food production it’s Get Out into the Community. Obviously go to farms, and there are farms even in rural areas. Some are rooftop farms, but you can also go to grocery stores. You can go to local restaurants. You can talk to them about where they get their food. We go to fairs. Anytime there’s a fair with a food type theme, I try to take my students.

Gosh, if you’re really brave, maybe if you teach P.E., you can try maybe bicycle tours. That’s something that some communities are starting to do is offer some tours – bicycle or walking — to go and look at different food sources. Talk to the people that are serving food about where their food comes from. So that’s something that is a good connection to make, is that connection between food service or the culinary arts and food production.

Vicki: It sure is, and you’re really building a connection with your community. Such a great thing to do. OK, what’s our fifth, Julie?

Agriculture in the Classroom

Julie: One thing that you really want to do is reach out and connect with your state department of agriculture. There is a national organization called Agriculture in the Classroom. The thing that the state department of agriculture can provide you with is lots of resources – paper resources, internet resources, maybe even speakers that can come out to your classroom. Many states have a statewide Ag in the Classroom component. So, for example, here in Maine, we have one that provides free summer training to teachers about how to better integrate food production into their classroom.

Vicki: So, we have so many fantastic ideas to bring sustainable food systems into our schools. Being aware of where our food originates and how things are grown – this is an important part of just life literacy.

So, follow one of these tips or advice, and take a look at Ag in the Classroom in particular. And this is just an exciting subject and an important one. So be remarkable, and pull sustainability and agriculture into your classroom!


Contact us about the show: https://www.coolcatteacher.com/contact/

Transcribed by Kymberli Mulford [email protected]


Bio as submitted

Julie Willcott is an advocate for holistic learning with


an emphasis on STEAM (science-technology-engineering-art-math). She provides professional development, content creation, and social media services; presents at national and international conferences; and acts as an advisory board member for SXSWedu.

Blog: Julie Willcott

Twitter: @willcottjulie

Disclosure of Material Connection: This is a “sponsored podcast episode.” The company who sponsored it compensated me via cash payment, gift, or something else of value to include a reference to their product. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I believe will be good for my readers and are from companies I can recommend. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.) This company has no impact on the editorial content of the show.

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