When policies aren’t aligned (or logical)

I usually write about school turnaround, education reform, and underperforming schools, but today’s Chicago Tribune includes a story that exemplifies how policies don’t always align with needs (or logic for that matter). The italicized text is from the article.

Fact: There’s a high obesity rate among Illinois children and experts are concerned that young people are eating few fresh vegetables. Meanwhile, a studies suggest children eat and accept vegetables much more readily when they have helped grow them.

A representative from USDA says school gardens can help feed students’ minds, if not their bellies. Several recent studies on the topic include one that “found children who engaged in garden-based learning did better on their standardized test scores, were more environmentally aware and were willing to try and consume more fruits and vegetables, even beyond what they saw in the garden.”

Practice: Over 40 school gardens in Chicago are carefully tended by teachers, students and volunteers, range from several square feet to several acres of fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers, and some schools even grow plants year-round in school greenhouses.

Similar garden-to-school programs provide learning opportunities for students and produce for an after-school meals program. They can also provide green summer jobs to students who are willing to water and weed.

“When kids are involved in the growing process and buy into the concept and see the end product, that’s when the whole thing works.”

Problem: None of the produce ever finds its way into CPS lunchrooms. Instead, because of rules set by the district and its meal provider, the food is sold or given away.

Policy: “In order to use food in the school food program, it would need to meet specific/certified growing practices,” CPS spokeswoman Monique Bond said. These requirements would include eliminating all “pesticides and insecticide” applications and using only “commercially prepared organic compost and fertilizers,” said Bob Bloomer, regional vice president of Chartwells-Thompson. Commercial vendors, though, don’t have to abide by these rules. They can sell the district produce treated with several pesticides and grown in nonorganic fertilizer.

Reaction: While the CPS policy is designed to protect students, it is now hurting the very students its supposed to protect. Students could have access to more fresh produce, could gain a better understanding of the farm-to-table cycle, and could develop the satisfaction of helping grow and prepare their own food. If done well, the district, which strives to “buy local,” could save money and truly be local. Maybe it’s time to reevaluate the policy.

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