Inspired by a field trip to an organic farm and troubled by a film about industrial food production, Grade 8 students at St. John Catholic School hosted the school’s first food symposium.
Student Marcus Nicoletti says he was struck by what he saw when his class watched Food Inc., a 2010 film that takes a critical look at intensive livestock and crop production as well as problems with food labeling.
“It opened a lot of doors that you don’t really see into every day,” Nicoletti said. “It showed where most of our food is coming from.”
Nicoletti has been on a working farm before – his uncle farms in Minden, close to Peterborough – but he was surprised by the scale and conditions of the feedlots shown in the film, where cows and pigs were packed less than six inches apart in barns “like one big huge factory.
“They were knee-deep in manure,” he said.
With help from their teacher, Tracy Bain, Nicoletti and his classmates came up with the idea of hosting a food symposium, open primarily to Grade 4 to 7 students, which would include local organic farmers, grocers and bakers, as well as booths showing the Grade 8 students’ own projects.
Organic baker Tori Vaccher, who runs Tori’s Bakeshop on Queen Street, says she was in her store when Nicoletti came in with an invitation from the school.
Vaccher signed up, as did most of the shops Nicoletti visited, adding that she was impressed by how carefully the students followed up to make sure all the booths had everything they would need.
“We’re excited to talk to the kids,” she said, standing by a table well supplied with organic chocolate-chip cookies made with fair-trade chocolate from Mexico. “They have a lot of interesting questions for us.”
Vaccher said when it comes to buying food, one simple tip is to make sure the ingredients are clear.
“If they can’t say what they are, you probably shouldn’t be eating it,” she said.
Anne-Marie Chatterton, another Grade 8 student, says she learned a lot about well-grown local food from a May 17 field trip to Fresh City Farms, a two-acre organic farm near Downsview Park that offers boxes of seasonal veggies. At Fresh City, the farmers use netting and other methods to avoid pesticides, she said. The outfit also makes its own compost.
Chatterton said it was exciting to tour a real farm, and to see vegetables just starting to sprout, adding that she tried sunflower sprouts for the first time.
Asked if they were tasty, Chatterton didn’t sugar-coat her answer.
“Not really,” she said, laughing. “But that’s okay.”
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