Last weekend, local non-profit VeggieU held its fifth-annual fundraiser. The folks at The Chef's Garden, the Milan family farm that created VeggieU, clearly know how to put on a party. If you didn't have tickets this year, you really should think about getting some next year.
Besides the event being a good time, it is all for a very good cause.
The Chef's Garden, the for-profit farm, itself is one of the most interesting operations in the area. It specializes in top-quality, often rare, vegetables which it ships all over the country. Forget about organic, it is at the forefront of the sustainable agriculture movement. And when it comes to sustainable agriculture, you can talk about the better environmental impact of farming as it was done a century ago, or you could go on about the better nutrition in a vegetable grown in that manner mass-produced vegetables have seen a 40 percent drop in nutrition value between 1960 and 2000 according to the USDA. You could even get excited over all the vegetables that The Chef's Garden has brought back after they disappeared from the market for decades. You could even wax rhapsodic about the fact that it's just nice to see a family farm flourishing as a business in this day and age.
But who really cares about that stuff? These vegetables taste good. Really good. In fact, one reporter who is a carnivore said he'd be happy taking a bucket of their micro-greens into the movies with him instead of popcorn and candy (they have one leafy-green thing that tastes exactly like Good 'N' Plenty).
The Chef's Garden is nifty enough on its own. But the Food and Wine Celebration was all about VeggieU. VeggieU takes those vegetables The Chef's Garden grows and it sends them to fourth grade classrooms all over the country, along with soil, grow lights, and a worm farm. It is a five-week, standards-compliant science curriculum that, as VeggieU puts it, is aimed at improving children's eating habits, one classroom at a time.
Even more important than the blow it strikes against obesity, however, is the pure educational value of the program. While education as a whole has become more and more about "teaching to the test," this hands-on program filled with fun stuff like dirt and worms is something that can get kids excited about learning. And while they may learn a thing or two about plants, what is really important is that they learn how to think, and how to reason. They learn how to figure out for themselves what's correct and what's incorrect, and that is a skill that no price tag can be put on.
In fact, putting VeggieU in all of the more than 90,000 classrooms in the country would cost nearly $40 million a year, but it would be cheap at twice the price.
Last year, 625 classrooms had VeggieU, and this year, they're aiming for 1,625. There's a long way left to go, but every single classroom is a step in the right direction.