Like many educators, Meg MacCurtin has a certain flair for stating the obvious. “If you’re seeing strawberries in December and January at your grocery store, that means they’ve traveled hundreds or thousands of miles to get here,” she says.
At a time when the man-made world is changing fast enough to make even the brightest among us feel a little dumb, MacCurtin and the rest of her colleagues at Greener Partners are out to prove that getting back to nature is a smart move. “Getting your food seems like a simple thing, but it can be so confusing and overwhelming,” says Jennifer Brodsky, Greener Partners’ COO.
Founded in 2007 by parents looking to cultivate a tangible connection among themselves, their food and the environment, Greener Partners has wasted no time in recruiting others to its cause. Based out of the Longview Center for Agriculture in Collegeville and Media’s Hillside Farm, the flourishing nonprofit maintains a CSA initiative, summer camps and a farmers’ market. Meanwhile, its educational programs teach children to be stewards of an environment they’ll eventually inherit and maintain. The organization’s reach even extends to CSA plots in low-come areas like Chester.
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For Greener Partners, the grocery store is a classroom. Every kid knows they have to eat their fruits and veggies, and every parent knows organic is preferable. But what they might not know is that the organic, good-for-you produce flown in from South America can’t hold a candle to the fresh offerings grown here. And while the “urban greening” movement has been a godsend for cities, similar initiatives sometimes get lost in the suburbs. “People tend to forget what kind of an impact [not buying locally] has on the environment, not to mention the reduction in nutritional value that’s lost during travel,” says MacCurtin, who is Greener Partners’ education director.
Its Seed to Snack program brings the farm to the classroom at 14 local elementary schools. This monthly visit aims to foster the perception that food is something that’s actually grown (more of a revelation to some kids than you might realize), is meant to be healthy and should be appreciated even without the fancy packaging and chemical enhancements. Greener Partners reps bring along seasonal produce, which serves as both a snack and a valuable lesson, as students learn that broccoli, kale and arugula can be tasty and good for them.
For city kids, the SOL (sustainable, organic and local) Food Project at Philadelphia’s Gerard College teaches students to grow, cook and create meals together, using the on-campus garden for produce and herbs. “We don’t want to just get them involved in organic growing,” MacCurtin says. “We want them to taste, be inspired, and make a change in their lives because of it.”
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Away from school, the same thing applies: Make a connection to food, and you make a connection to people. What’s lacking at many dinner tables is anything local—and it’s not just the economy that suffers. “Seeing kids come to our farms and watching them pull a carrot out of the ground—when they had no idea thatcarrots even came out of the ground—is a watershed moment,” says Brodsky.
More such moments come courtesy of Greener Partners’ Lost Arts workshops, which encourage whole communities to maintain a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle through cooking, cultivating, preserving and self-care. Courses are offered in making cheeses, jams and jellies—and even in maintaining a brood of backyard chickens. “The goal is for people to leave feeling empowered,” MacCurtin says.
Ultimately, Greener Partners wants us to feel good about what we put in our bodies. “It’s not just the food that nurtures us, it’s the local farm that nurtures the community,” says Brodsky. “That’s where we still have a lot left to learn.”
For more, visit greenerpartners.org.