I grew up in the inner city of Chicago. As an urban child, I didn’t have much exposure to nature, and the schools I went to didn’t have student gardens. In fact, I began gardening after college! That’s when I realized how important it is for youth to learn about growing food.
Like many kids in the “age of convenience,” I consumed fast food and TV dinners quite often. I learned how to cook for myself during college while studying abroad in Spain, and at that time I noticed a great improvement in my health and energy. Cooking became a hobby that I enjoyed very much.
I majored in Biology, and my first job after college was on an organic farm near campus town. The farm owner gave me a book about sustainable agriculture and soil health that had a major impact on the way I perceive our environment. The book provided scientific explanations for how soils lose productivity when exposed to increasing amounts of chemical inputs over time. As I learned more about this topic, I decided to pursue a career in sustainable agriculture.
I went to one of the top agricultural graduate schools in Germany and completed a Master’s degree in Organic Agriculture and Food Systems. During my studies, I found an article by Monica Eng that set me on my career path. Eng reported that while many Chicago schools had gardens, they were not allowed to integrate student-grown produce into their school food. I decided to investigate this issue by conducting my Master’s thesis on the topic of school garden-to-cafeteria programs. I connected with garden education experts in Chicago, NYC and Denver in order to provide recommendations for successful program implementation (Click here to see my thesis.) Chicago schools have since changed their policies to encourage the integration of school-grown produce into the cafeterias via their “Eat What You Grow” program.
Through my research and experience, I’m convinced that gardening is the most powerful way to encourage healthier consumption choices, and to potentially mitigate epidemics like obesity and diabetes. Studies show that when children engage in gardening, they eat more fruits and vegetables– and they enjoy the taste of them more!
Since returning to my hometown of Chicago, I have collaborated with numerous organizations and stakeholders that are invested in the growth of garden education locally and beyond. My goal is to give more people the opportunity to experience the benefits of gardening and preparing fresh foods.
I look forward to connecting with you!