Cultivating Kids as Citizen Scientists

Last Wednesday I attended a lunch panel discussion downtown at SPUR.  Three great panelists, Julie Hutcheson (Committee for Green Foothills), Andrea Mackenzie (Open Space Authority) and Serena Unger (American Farmland Trust) and SPUR moderator Eli Zigas addressed the topic “Urban Growth and Local Farming: What’s a County to Do?” Andrea stressed the importance of strengthening the urban agriculture and rural agriculture continuum to ensure that we don’t end up with farms in the city but none in our rural areas. In the final question and answer session, I asked the group what urban ag’s role is in that continuum. They said, above all, raise your voice. In the face of the affordable housing shortage we are experiencing, it’s not enough to say that we’re for preserving farms and against urban sprawl. We have to be also speak up for the importance of dense, thoughtful urban infill.

Then they said, work with kids. Kids who spend time outside, who plant vegetables and count butterflies, learn about the close relationship between the environment and their local food system.  Our goal is to get those kids to grow up to be adults who fight for these same things.

I was reminded of a recent article by Linda Chalker-Scott, author and Washington State University scientist, who advocates for citizen scientists. I read Richard Louv’s “Last Child in the Woods” years ago. Both authors have been on my mind recently. I wonder, what role can we play in fostering tomorrow’s environmental leaders?  

At Veggielution we are passionate about educating the next generation of youth about the close relationship between the environment and their local food system. In our Youth Garden we work with children to develop a clear food-land connection and foster environmental stewardship. More than 500 youth and their family members visited our Youth Garden last year, engaging in a number of ways. We lead families on sensory nature walks, garden maintenance tasks such as weeding, watering, and planting, and outdoor classroom lessons. On Saturdays, families are encouraged to stay and join in our community potluck lunch. In addition to our own programming, we also share the Youth Garden and adjacent classroom space with other community organizations to complement their own literacy, STEM and art programming.

And there is plenty of work left to do. In 2016, we are seeking support to develop farm-based field trip curriculum for middle school students, with a particular focus on East San Jose schools. To learn more about how you can support this effort, please email me at Help us create the next generation of young citizen scientists!