“Our school system is trying to be agrarian”: educating for reskilling and food system transformation in the rural school garden

Agriculture and Human Values 36 (3):507-519 (2019)
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School gardens and garden-based learning continue to gain great popularity in the United States, and their pedagogical potential, and ability to impact students’ fruit and vegetable consumption and activity levels have been well-documented. Less examined is their potential to be agents of food system reskilling and transformation. Though producer and consumer are inextricably linked in the food system, and deskilling of one directly influences the other, theorists often focus on production-centered and consumption-centered deskilling separately. However, in a school garden, the production/consumption disconnect is erased, by virtue of the design of the site itself and how it is utilized by the actors within it. School gardens provide the critical component of education in alternative food networks, and contribute to the producer/consumer reskilling that is a necessary part of food system transformation. We conducted a case study of an established school garden program during its transition from autonomous non-profit to official, district-funded program of a rural school district in the Midwest. By participating in the full “seed to plate” life cycle of a garden crop, students in the garden were actively involved in the reconnection of producer and consumer, while educators were fostering in students an appreciation for fresh, healthy foods and actively challenging the “McDonaldization” of both students’ diets and education. Based upon these findings, we argue that school gardens in rural areas could leverage the dominant role of rural America in developing and shifting food system paradigms.



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