Gabrielle Taube calls it an extreme nutrition lesson, the industry calls it urban farming, but the children at Penrose Community Center just call it fun.
With the help of Temple Community Garden volunteers, Taube educates students in grades kindergarten through eighth on the virtues of nutritional eating and gardening every Tuesday at the community center, located at 12th Street and Susquehanna Avenue.
After helping the children to finish their homework, Taube teaches them how to grow their own food through the use of six raised soil beds and one vertical garden located at the community center.
“The kids really love it,” Taube said. “They don’t always love to play in the dirt but they like to see their stuff grow and they love fruits and vegetables.”
Living in Philadelphia creates many challenges for children seeking to consume a balanced diet.
“Having fruits and vegetables is somewhat of a novelty,” Taube said. “After school they get a hot meal, but there is no fresh produce.”
According to the 2009 Philadelphia Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 82 percent of students consume fruits and vegetables less than five times per day, and 17 percent of children are obese. Urban farming has the potential to alter these statistics both by providing access to nutritional foods, and by instilling a love and habit of eating them.
Taube said providing the children with the opportunity to grow their own food is an effective method to introduce them to new and nutritional foods, which they might never have tried otherwise.
“The garden is visible to the entire community,” Taube said. “The kids like to show it off. They take pride in making it, so they at least want to try everything that they grow.”
Not only does urban farming provide children with nutritional benefits, but it also provides the community with environmental advantages. Producing food locally cuts down on the fuel usage that is necessary to transport food across long distances.
Taube also teaches students how to garden organically, a method that is key to environmental sustainability. Farms that use chemical fertilizers and pesticides often contribute to polluted waterways, as the runoff from them contains materials that are harmful to marine environments.
Agriculture is the leading source of pollution in 48 percent of the nation’s river miles, as indicated in a report conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency. Taube said environmental change in Philadelphia is more likely to be instituted if students are taught how to plant in a responsible manner.
For those who live in the shadows of steel skyscrapers as opposed to the fields of high-corn stalks, it is all too easy to forget the impact that food production has on the environment.
Agriculture, especially when it is conducted in an unsustainable manner, without significant thought as to its future consequences, leads to land degradation, soil erosion, greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution and excessive water use.
“In urban environments we are just so removed from the food process,” Taube said. “But knowing where your food comes from is important.”
Taube said that connecting students with the food process is an effective step towards creating a healthier and more environmentally conscious community.
For Taube, it is this focus on creating a difference in the community that is most important.
“I feel as if these kids are our neighbors,” Taube said. “Temple students are too occupied in the campus bubble, but it is important to grow bonds within the community.”
Amy Stansbury can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.