Planting Seeds

Planting Seeds

Planting Seeds: Empowering our Children with Ways to Protect the Environment while Cultivating the Earth

Monday, April 24, 2006

BLOG ABSTRACT by Melissa, Amanda, Suzanne, and Justin

Mission Statement

Saving the environment is about commitment. Commitment means everyone—adults and children of all ages and identities—coming together to plant the seeds for change.

We as environmental stewards, firmly believe that we can inspire young, school-aged children to be passionate about environmental issues and empower them to save the environment. We see agriculture as central to the lives of all individuals on this planet; it is the source of all of our food. We are committed to the education of young people about environmentally-safe farming methods and organic foods. We wish to introduce students to the ethical issues that surround agriculture. We recognize these ethical imperatives to include buying locally grown foods, supporting smaller farms, and advocating for much needed subsidies for farmers to use technology that is environmentally sustainable. We affirm that benefits of all of the aforementioned are far reaching, augmenting our health, knowledge, and realization of our moral responsibility for our planet and fellow human beings.

Our project is a small step in environmental awareness, but it is an important one. Because we are college students, we hope that the students in our classroom will be able to identify with us as young people who sit in classrooms just like theirs and have teachers, assignments, and homework just like they do. Hence, we feel that the scientific, ethical, and nutritional messages we bring to the classroom will be more palpable to the students than if they were being presented by older adults. Establishing an appropriate and positive relationship between the students and ourselves is key to the success of our project.

We feel it incumbent upon us to acknowledge that we are part of a larger picture. As ELEA stewards (Environmental Literature, Ethics and Action), we are working together with our colleagues to promote environmental awareness on campus and in the greater New York City area—an urban community that is, perhaps, too removed from the rural environment. Our project is a puzzle piece in a multifarious framework. Our readings and class discussions are integral to the formulation of our project; they complement and influence the way we as stewards think. Just as we will enter a classroom once a week to educate elementary school students, we to enter a seminar once a week to discuss these same issues with our peers and learn tremendously from our interactions. Additionally, we are aware that ELEA reflects the environmental and ethical concerns of our campus, and moreover, a young generation who feels the collective responsibility to save Planet Earth. We hope that our blog (www……) reaches like-minded individuals as a resource for their own environmental projects. Still, we also hope to change minds—to inspire the unconvinced or disinterested environmentalist to become a steward him- or herself.

We, the environmental stewards, feel empowered by working with other talented individuals to create a collage of greater environmental awareness. We have the power to plant seeds: to educate young minds and to change the world. It is with this confidence in mind that we present our environmental stewardship project…

Planting Seeds: Empowering Our Children with Ways to Safeguard the Environment While Cultivating the Earth

Action Plan

Apathy in the Face of Widespread Environmental Destruction: PROBLEM

We are disturbed by the widespread, accelerating, morbid destruction of the environment. Around the world, the ruination of natural habitats is causing the rate of species extinctions to increase rapidly. The World Wildlife fund states that every minute 25 to 40 acres of rainforest, containing priceless rare species, are cleared by loggers or burned to the ground to make way for livestock herds and expanding agriculture. Wetlands are filled in to make room for commercial developments. Overfishing threatens marine life; coal mines and oil rigs push terrestrial organisms from their original habitats. Pollution disturbs ecosystems everywhere. In addition to these problems and a host of other causes of habitat destruction, global warming drastically exacerbates the potential for species extinction; ultimately, even the vitality of the human race is in danger. As Hamdallah Zedan, executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, has stated, “Halting the loss of species is a basic necessity of life.”
Due to the burgeoning environmental movement and the exposure of environmental issues in the media, most people have at least a basic awareness of these problems. And yet, by and large, few people seem to care. Perhaps the scientists’ predictions of the ultimate effects of global warming seem too apocalyptical to take seriously. Perhaps the fate of human extinction seems too far in the future to be concerning. Whatever the cause, certainly this is the most disturbing component of the accelerating destruction of the environment: the fact that so few people, despite their awareness, have been moved to action.

Education can solve this: PASSION

We firmly believe that it is not enough for people to merely hear about global warming on the news or to read about deforestation occasionally in the paper. We believe that the ethics of environmentalism must become an integral component of every person’s education, from the time they are young and on into adulthood. Currently, the set curriculum in schools does not adequately treat environmental issues. We feel that the skills that students learn in school—critical reading, writing, math, and science—must be harnessed in order for them to save the environment. They must see for themselves the importance of living an environmentally sustainable life. Our project seeks to give students the tools to make a difference by sharpening their skills and making them deeply informed young adults.
Furthermore, we believe that education is the primary means of changing society. Society must change if the human race is to survive—and we must ignite the spark. We must focus on the children of today because they are the adults of tomorrow. We must teach them to make smart, ethical decisions. We are passionate about the environment; we are passionate about environmental education. We must be examples for society, inspiring others to disseminate the message of environmentalism as well. Education makes environmentalism accessible and socio-environmental change a collective and realizable goal.

Environmental Education is a Journey: PERSPECTIVE

We see our project as part of the journey of environmental education. There have been efforts in recent years to educate society—particularly children—about the environment. Government officials and policy makers, such as the New York Department of Education, have begun to respond to the growing demand for environmental education in public schools, especially in urban areas where an experiential focus is difficult.
On a national level, the National Environmental Education Act, passed in 1990, requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to increase environmental literacy among young America. The act acknowledges that prior to 1990, efforts and energies toward educating our youth about our precarious environmental future were insufficient ( The program calls for training professionals and educators in environmental studies. The EPA is expected to work with local educational institutions to implement programs related to the environment. Their website provides many useful resources for children and teachers, including an environmental club for kids. They offer classroom visits and teacher workshops. However, it is uncertain how many teachers are taking advantage of these resources. With so many expectations placed upon them in the classroom, teachers need accessible resources that can be integrated into their curriculum.
A model for integrated, experiential learning is the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden in the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. Opened in spring 1998, the Adventure Garden provides a place for schoolchildren to experience nature firsthand—close to home. A visit to the Garden can be an enjoyable field trip for an elementary (or even secondary) school class in New York City. Teachers can provide students the opportunity to explore concepts covered in the classroom in a hands-on environment. If teachers can integrate field trips like these into the set curriculum, environmentalism in the classroom will be a much more realistic goal for educators and exponentially more palpable for students.
But despite these resources, the truth is the quantity and quality of programs available to teachers is very limited. We need programs that are going to inspire young people to value our planet and devote themselves to working not to destroy it. We believe that those programs with a hands-on, experiential approach and those that deal with issues which seem real and important to children have been the most successful. Thus, by learning from programs such as the Adventure Garden, we hope to devise a curriculum that will truly resonate with children. Our lessons will be interactive because experiential learning is crucial to making the abstract concepts of environmentalism and environmental ethics tangible to young minds. As educators, we will be sensitive to the levels and needs of our students. We hope that students leave the program with the perspective that they are a part of the natural world, and that environmental education is a life-long, gratifying journey towards a more sustainable future.

The Empowerment of Consumer Choice: PLAN

By focusing on a particular issue in environmental ethics, agriculture, we hope to set such complex and seemingly esoteric ideas as global warming and groundwater pollution into a context as real and appealing as, well, food. We plan to discuss the various ways that farming is conducted by conventional farms, organic farms, and small-scale farms supporting local vendors. By analyzing the reasons why such farms are run differently, and the environmental consequences of these different ways of farming, students will be given the opportunity to realize that, even while doing something as simple as grocery shopping, they are making decisions that affect the health of the environment. Thus, we will use the issue of agriculture as a metaphor, or, at least, an introduction to the idea that even our most seemingly banal and common choices may impact the environment profoundly. Hopefully, our focus on agriculture will serve to give the students a more physical, and thus convincing, conception of the major environmental problems, such as global warming, and will grant the children a sense that they, themselves, have the power to affect positive environmental change.

Local and Organic Foods Sustain the Environment: POINT OF VIEW

We endorse local foods and organic produce because they are generally grown with less pesticides and chemical fertilizers than conventionally grown produce and with sustainable methods, such as crop rotation, that work to restore the vitality of the soil rather than deplete it.
Buying local and organic food supports sustainable agriculture. Organic farmers, by definition, do not use pesticides on their crops, and therefore do not contaminate their surroundings with polluted runoff as many conventional farms do. In addition, most local farmers, either out of personal conviction or a realization of the interests of their consumer market, grow organic crops or use pesticides sparingly and practice methods of sustainable agriculture, such as crop rotation, to limit the environmental impact of farming.
Conversely, supporting sustainable agriculture combats the destructive practices of immense agribusiness farms. Small to mid-scale farmers face increasing pressure from agribusiness corporations to sell their land. Every year, the number of small-scale farms in the United States drops substantially, and the landmass of large-scale factory farms owned by large corporations increases. Agribusiness factory farms, due to their incredibly large size and their focus on maximizing profit at all costs, tend to be significant sources of air and water pollution and detrimental to the health of the surrounding community. Buying local means supporting the livelihood of local farmers who have made a commitment to their products and to the health of their land and their neighbors. It is also a means of boycotting those farmers who do not practice sustainable techniques.
In addition, purchasing local food reduces the distance that food must travel from the farm to your plate; less gasoline is used and global warming is deterred. Non-locally grown food travels on average 1,300 miles before it reaches its destination; the average for local food is 100 miles. This difference of 1,200 miles for every shipment of food reveals the potential to dramatically curb carbon dioxide emissions from fuel use by buying locally grown food. Decreasing carbon dioxide emissions is desperately necessary in order to prevent global warming.

Engaged Instruction: PRODUCT

We will conduct a class on Monday, April 3rd and on Friday, April 8th; after the class on April 8th, we will take a field-trip to the Park Slope Co-op. Monday’s class will focus on locally-grown foods. We will ask students to draw a picture on transparency of what they think of when they consider a farm. We will then project these images and give each student a few minutes to describe their drawing. We will then project images of conventional farms, illuminating the use of pesticides, the crowdedness of factory farms, the appearance of monocultures, and other realities of conventional farms. Following, we will discuss the history of the green revolution and the reasons for the environmentally destructive practices of conventional farming. We will then present small-scale farms as an alternative to conventional farms, describing what different methods they employ and why these methods are better for the environment. We will discuss how local foods are shipped lesser distances than conventional foods, and use this as a segue to an analysis of global warming. Finally, we will show images of small farms, while discussing where local produce can be purchased in New York City and how to tell if foods are locally grown.
Friday’s class will begin with a skit demonstrating what “organic” means and why it is a healthy choice. The history of pesticide use will be discussed, and Rachel Carson’s impact will be mentioned. Students will complete a worksheet in which foods are described and the students must determine whether the foods are organic or not. In addition, students will be given a blind taste test to determine if there is a taste difference between conventional and organic produce.
The trip to the Park Slope Co-op will give us and the students time to get to know each other and perhaps, even, to talk to each other about local, organic, and conventional foods in a more relaxed setting. Once at the Co-op, students will complete a scavenger hunt that will allow them to exercise their newfound knowledge by finding certain local and organic items within the Co-op.


We are very excited about the prospects of our project. We are humbled to know that it is but a small step along the journey of environmental education, but are invigorated to be part of the process. As English critic John Ruskin said, “Education does not mean teaching people to know what they do not know; it means teaching them to behave as they do not behave.” If we can inspire young individuals to action, their service to the environment—their commitment to maintaining the earth and making it better for future generations—could last a lifetime, or beyond.

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