Wednesday, November 18, 2009

How a Fruit Tree Can Change the World: Sustainable Food, Sustainable Education

How is sustainable food connected to education? The connections between food and learning run deep. Food is one of the first things that we grow to understand as children, and the cultural heritage of our food is an important learning that is passed down from parents and grandparents to children. Even before they are born, children taste the spices that their mothers eat, learning what the world tastes like. Food also sustains our learning – children who go to school without eating have a difficult time concentrating in school.

Years ago, I went for a walk with a volunteer in the Philippines, a man who was dedicated to planting trees to conserve the soil and water of the country’s watersheds. He took children to plant trees in his town’s watershed, but he was soon struck by a different problem. The children were beginning to understand how a tree could help conserve water and soil, but those same children were hungry. Could they be fed by the fruit of a tree as well? A small, grassroots movement began that saw children planting mango trees. As the children grew, their trees grew, and by the time a child was ready to go to school, that child’s trees would bear fruit. This fruit could feed the child and could be sold to pay for school essentials, ensuring that the child could continue her education.

A similar idea grows around the world: there’s nothing quite as tangible as planting a tree. While some may plant trees to absorb carbon or conserve soil, there’s a direct connection with a fruit tree that is unsurpassed. It’s a tree that sustains life. In Africa, Seeds for Africa works with schoolchildren to grow fruit trees in schoolyards. The fruit of these trees is available for the children to eat, and the tree provides shade and helps sustain healthy water and soil. The children also have a place to rest in the shade.

Planting a tree seems like such a simple act, but it’s an act that is full of hope for the future. The fruit of a tree provides a small but critical addition to the diets of children around the world. As children learn to care for trees and value them, forests grow in places where they have not grown for a long time. Planting these trees is not a token environmental act, it’s an essential part of survival, providing food and providing the ability for children to get an education. Slowly, quietly, and with delicious food, these trees are changing communities, and these communities are changing the world.

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