Global food waste hurts the environment

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Nicky Elmore Education for Sustainability Facilitator, Meadowbank School, Auckland explores how the TfS programme fits in.

Celebrating World Environment Day at Meadowbank School

June 5th was Arbor Day and World Environment Day, set aside by the United Nations Environment Programme with a special focus on global food waste.  You might well ask what Arbor Day, the day when we historically go out and plant a specimen tree in the school grounds, has to do with global food production or TfS?

The UN Food and Agriculture Programme estimates that globally, one third of all food is wasted every year. In developing countries, more than 40% of food waste happens on farms, during storage, and in processing.  But in first world countries, about the same amount of food waste occurs in homes and in stores.  A horrifying thought as you see whole sandwiches, still as wrapped by a loving parent, in the worm farm bin at school.

Interestingly the UN estimates that 70% of the world’s freshwater resources go in to global food production, which also accounts for 80% of the world’s deforestation.  Imagine a rain forest the size of our school field; only a skinny strip of it would still be trees and the rest would be bare.  Where would all the orangutans and other beautiful creatures live?  Students are still thinking this problem is far away and surely not really connected to us?

“Deforestation, erosion”, OK, so those are words familiar to the vocabulary of TfS.  There are a whole lot of seedlings in the plant growing unit that need to be potted on and pricked out and teaching time is really short.  Suddenly there is relevance for doing this.  While we may not be pricking out food plants, we are in fact contributing to the revegetation of at risk land.  Much of our rural land has been deforested for farming, which is after all food production.

Students pricking out harakeke to be planted at Mataia where kiwi have recently been released

TfS aims to control erosion and improve water quality, that’s a given.  However, during the process of potting on and pricking out, the class discusses that our native plants will contribute to habitat for birds and insects that spread seeds, and will pollinate nearby food crops. A healthy stream flowing into a nearby harbour will also support the growing fish population for our fishermen.

The kiwi that have now been released into the native bush on the farm may live amongst our plants.  Kiwi wander into the pasture and push tiny bits of cow poo down into the soil while they are fossicking for worms and bugs.  This in turn aerates the soil and helps to fertilise the grass for the cows.  Wow, it’s fascinating how everything is connected.

At Meadowbank School we potted on 22 milk crates with 4 rows of 5 plants, that’s 440 big plants. Plus we pricked out 25 root trainers with 48 per root trainer, that’s 1200 baby plants.  We did have some help from the Envirofrond Action lunchtime group (they are just keen to have fun and help the environment) then some Garden 2 Table (G2T) kids helped in the afternoon (they’re also learning about food production), collectively we produced 1640 plants!

Who’d have thought maths might actually come in useful?  To top that off, we are going to do a recount about the impact we have made for the environment.  We also need to have a chat to our parents about the food we eat, where it comes from, how it is produced, perhaps we could use our G2T skills to expand our vegetable garden at home and eat more home grown food?  Our photos and story are going to be in a TfS article which might even help other schools to integrate TfS into their learning.  Great, because today has really made us think about how our actions can make a difference.

When it comes to international focus-days like this one, teachers looking for classroom resources and curriculum integration have a goldmine at their fingertips.

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