Program Profile: CitySprouts Teaches STEM and Food Justice Through Hands-On Kitchen and Garden Experiences

citysprouts-1Integrating garden based learning experiences, cooking experiments, and investigations into food systems that track produce from the farm to the grocery store, CitySprouts teaches students important STEM skills and content while exposing them to new fruits and vegetables and fostering investment in food justice issues in their communities and worldwide.

“We have three main buckets of goals: STEM learning, social-emotional growth, and learning about healthy food,” says Erin Taylor, Middle School Program Manager and Garden Coordinator with CitySprouts. “Those map to learning about the ecosystem, the food system, and the community.”

During CitySprouts programs, students explore the intersection of complex ecosystems and food systems through relatable long term gardening and cooking projects. This fall, students enrolled in CitySprouts programs will participate in a Pizza Science unit, growing and studying ingredients like scientists as they work towards creating their own pizzas from scratch.

pizzagarden-copy“We make dough together to explore the role of yeast and fungus and decomposers in the ecosystem,” says Taylor. “The students have a guided science talk as they are doing it, making predictions, observations, and connections between what they are seeing and things they have seen before to come up with theories about what’s going on.”

CitySprouts structures science lessons as hands-on investigations in which students lead experiments and explore the engineering design process first hand. They give students permission to make mistakes as they grow their understanding and avoid asking for “correct” answers.

“We try to strip away preconceived notions of what teachers or instructors are looking for when students are doing science. It helps everyone to let go of some of the stresses around vocabulary and particular language and actually get to the practices of science,” says Taylor.

tripsAs another part of this investigation, students compare locally grown tomatoes to tomatoes grown around the world, considering how these two models affect farmers, consumers, truck drivers, grocery stores, and the environment. They take trips to grocery stores and local businesses to find out where their produce comes from, adding a layer of relevance to the project.

“Students get to see the people that are affected by the decisions we make about which tomatoes we buy. This tends to have a really strong impact because it often is the first time that middle schoolers are invited into a more complicated conversation about some of the hard things that happen in the world,” says Taylor.

CitySprouts teaches students that like systems in science, food systems contain many interdependent parts and complex cause and effect relationships. In CitySprouts programs, students learn to approach both types of systems with a scientific attitude, asking questions, making observations, and forming ideas about how they operate.

“The overarching theme is systems,” says Taylor. “Having conversations about social justice and the food system in the same setting that we are learning to be good scientists, pay close attention to detail, and think about how different factors affect each other is really important. You need those skills to affect change in the world.”