Do you know where your food comes from? Whether it is the food we are getting at a grocery store, farmer’s market, restaurant, or our backyard, understanding the way food is produced and the larger systems it is a part of can help us fight for more sustainable and equitable access to food. Scholar and dedicated food educator Jon Garfunkel talks with guest host Mair Allen about the ways that acts like reclaiming public spaces for gardening, having conversations with local food providers, and volunteering to help to feed your community can help us understand and correct problems in the food systems we currently depend on—both locally and globally.
image from Unsplash via Thomas Gamstaetter
To learn more about Jon Garfunkel and EduCulture, visit that organization’s website. Find information about the certificate program that Jon runs at Antioch by visiting the Leadership in Edible Education website.
Recorded October 26, 2021 via Riverside.fm. Released November 3, 2021.
The Seed Field Podcast is produced by Antioch University.
The Seed Field Podcast’s host is Jasper Nighthawk, and its editor is Lauren Instenes. Special thanks for this episode goes to Karen Hamilton and Melinda Garland for their contributions.
[00:00:19] Jasper Nighthawk: This is The Seed Field Podcast, the show where Antiochians share their knowledge, tell their stories, and come together to win victories for humanity. I’m your host, Jasper Nighthawk. Today, though, we’re going to have something a little different. We have a guest host, that’s Mair Allen, a poet and writer who is currently finishing their MFA at Antioch Los Angeles. I have Mair in the studio right now with me to tell us how their interview went. Mair, thanks for taking over the hosting duties today.
[00:00:49] Mair Allen: Yes, Jasper, thanks for the introduction. It was a great time.
[00:00:53] Jasper: Who did you interview for us?
[00:00:55] Mair: I spoke with Jon Garfunkel. He’s an Antioch teacher and scholar, and we talked about the idea of edible education. it was a great conversation. We ended up talking about how edible education is really a part of everybody’s life already.
[00:01:08] Jasper: What is it about edible education that connected with you?
[00:01:12] Mair: I think it just made me see the ways that food justice is already at play in my life, and the ways that we can bring it into our lives every day in a way that I hadn’t thought about before.
[00:01:23] Jasper: That’s great. Thank you for doing this interview. I’m really excited to listen to it. I’m sure our listeners are too. Let’s jump right in.
[00:01:39] Mair: Today I’m lucky enough to be joined by Jon Garfunkel. Jon is the founder and managing director of EduCulture, a nonprofit that works in the Puget Sound area to bridge community, education, and local food systems. EduCulture weaves together topics from sustainability, ecology, and food justice to education and health, and partnered with the Master of Arts in Education program at Antioch University Seattle in 2015 to offer the Leadership in Edible Education Certificate. Welcome to The Seed Field Podcast, Jon.
[00:02:08] Jon Garfunkel: It’s wonderful to be with you.
[00:02:11] Mair: Today we’re going to talk about edible education. In my understanding, this is a framework of teaching and learning that creates connections within food systems, that is between growers, chefs, schools, students, consumers, and the land. Can you briefly explain edible education to our listeners and tell us a little bit about how edible education impacts our lives?
[00:02:34] Jon: Of course. It’s really wonderful to be here and on this podcast. Thank you very much for having me. Edible education is a contemporary term that in many ways serves to replace or create a space for terminology, thinking, ways of knowing, literacy, some people call kitchen literacy, basic knowledge of our foodshed and where our food comes from that no longer really is part of our home and community culture, and in some ways has had to take the form of formal education, in many ways informal education, to replace what we have lost.
The way that we use the term organic, for example. At one time, all farming practices were organic, so there wasn’t a need for the word. In many respects, edible education is a emerging field somewhere in the range of, I’d say, 15 years old that follows on traditions of food education, but looks much broader as an emerging practice concerned with teaching and learning about food and our foodshed, our food systems, our food community, our food culture. It’s an all-encompassing term both on the school side and in the community side to think about how we educate about where our food comes from and the larger consequences we need to consider with our modern food system and how we’re choosing to live in today’s modern world.
[00:03:59] Mair: Before we talk more about the specific work you’re doing in Seattle, I would love to know more about your story. How did you come to do this kind of work?
[00:04:08] Jon: Much of my work over the last two decades in many respects, I think, it goes back to the beginning of my work as a classroom teacher. I’ve now been working in K-12 and higher education, adult education for over 30 years. I’ve always been interested and concerned with teaching and learning about what’s going on in the real world and figuring out ways to bring the real world into the classroom and the classroom out into the real world.
Early on in my career as an educator when I was focused on trying to teach about global social studies, I realized we were caught in a stuckness of paradigm in which we separated out what we were teaching and learning about what was local to us compared to teaching and learning what was global. It’s really about helping people embrace a spectrum of local to global and global to local and how we can see the local in the global and the global in the local.
Going back to my early years in teaching when trying to talk about and study what was going on in a place like Tibet, it was about helping to see Tibet as a global issue, but also recognizing when I was teaching in the Seattle area, that Seattle was home to the oldest Tibetan community in America. We had a lot of local resources to be able to talk about what was going on globally and make sense of what was going on globally in a local context and very much vice versa.
My work has really evolved through a series of initiatives that have represented global and social topics of study that we would like to study but don’t really know how to get started and helping to create pathways.
That’s what led me to the work with edible education, which really followed on previous work I was doing and our non-profit was doing, and also Antioch was doing around education for sustainability and global education and multicultural education. It really represents the vanguard of the way we think about teaching about environmental ed or thinking about the intersection of environment with economic justice with social justice and food justice.
I feel, and a big believer of place-based education and situational learning, that the most authentic learning happens in the most authentic setting. Very often we have opportunities to tap into our backyard, so to speak, as educators and students to use the community as the curriculum, and look at what might be a global issue in a local context or a local issue in a global context by situating us in that particular place that allows us to think and more authentically engage in those relationships.
[00:06:54] Mair: Describing that as a relational situational learning, experiential, it means that the learners are getting their hands dirty, they’re out in the community. How have you seen that play out for learners?
[00:07:07] Jon: Another good question. We like to say that we are connecting place and taste with where we live, eat, and learn. When we think about that first part of connecting place and taste, it actually goes back to a French term called terroir, that mostly is associated with how we think about wine. It’s really the notion that you can taste the carrots that you plant in your backyard or from a local farm a mile away, and it can have a certain flavor that’s based on all of the unique conditions that went into growing that from the soil to the sun, to the water, to the care, to everything that went into that soil whether it was organic or non-organic.
You can have a carrot that may look similar that’s grown even 10 miles away, and it can have completely different taste. The same with strawberries or basically any kind of food. It’s important to recognize that when we think about where our food comes from, it’s grounded in a particular place, and that taste reflects that place if our mouths, our tongues, our features that we use to taste food are tuned into it. We like to say that we’re eating what we most need to learn. Meaning that we’re using all of our senses, but particularly our taste, to understand where food comes as much as any other ways of learning about it.
When you connect place and taste with where you live, eat, and learn, it’s a very integrated, inclusive, diverse, but localized way of recognizing a foodshed, the radius from which your food comes from, to a food system in a modern sense of how all the food connects to us from production to processing to distribution, consumption and then back to recycling, to our larger food culture and food community in ways that help you appreciate it wherever you may be and where you may go and even at a global level. We are firm believers of using the community as the classroom rather than simulating that learning in a traditional classroom space.
[00:09:12] Mair: Will you talk more specifically about what some of those community classrooms look like, where you might go with students,-
[00:09:19] Jon: Sure.
[00:09:20] Mair: -what those conversations might look like?
[00:09:22] Jon: Based on Bainbridge Island, we have a very old traditional food community. Our island was a foodshed for the Suquamish tribe and indigenous peoples before them for quite a long time. Eventually, when immigrants came to the island, farming became a big practice. We still have some of the original farms and our community as a city owns 60 acres of public farmland. We’ve been using farms paired with schools as outdoor classrooms for teaching and learning everything about math and social studies and science, et cetera. We also have been using our local grocery stores and our local restaurants and other businesses, food producers, as outdoor classrooms.
The idea of connecting a school that’s within walking distance of a particular food source is using one’s backyard, in essence, as an outdoor classroom and living interpretive center to bring to life what otherwise you might be teaching in a classroom. We’re trying to help teachers to expand their horizons of what place-based education is, to really recognize that, if possible, you’re best going to the source that literally can be a walking distance from your school than you are trying to either bring a guest speaker in or talk about it in a classroom setting.
On the leadership in edible education front, the program that we started in partnership with Antioch back in 2015, we meet in an intensive learning community, intentional learning community that spends seven hours on a Saturday nested in part of our larger Puget Sound region in a food community in which the morning we may visit a working farm, for lunch, we would need a local restaurant that might actually be featuring food from that local farm, in the afternoon, we might visit a food producer who’s taking food from that farm and processing it into something like kombucha as a drink, or taking tomatoes and turning it into tomato sauce so we see food from that element.
Then we might meet with local leaders who are concerned with addressing food at the government level. We’re able to see in a microcosm that local food community in the context of the greater Puget Sound community in context of the greater Northwest, what we call Salmon Nation which is a unique food region that covers British Columbia down to Northern California, and in a much more global context as well by immersing ourselves in the everyday lives of people who are involved in producing food that comes to us in different forms.
[00:11:52] Mair: With the leadership certificate, who’s attracted to that program? What kind of learners do you see?
[00:12:00] Jon: That’s another good question. We intentionally designed the program– This actually goes back to my earliest days as an adjunct at Antioch. I really focused on how you can create learning communities that aren’t just nested within one institution but bring a diverse, inclusive population from many different stakeholder perspectives together to have the same learning experience and share that learning experience even though their objectives and larger outcomes may differ. One of the unique aspects of leadership in edible education program is we create cohorts that are made up of both students within Antioch as matriculated students.
With the students we attract from Antioch, we also attract students from a much wider community, some who are classroom teachers and want to look at ways of integrating food or school-garden programs or relationships with local farms into their curriculum along with people who work in the food community. Farmers who want to add an educational program to their working farm, restaurants that want to educate people more about where their food’s coming from, especially if they’re tuned into a local food community, in particular, relationships.
It’s this wonderful blend of people who are wanting to get into work as educators or practicing educators who want to enhance their repertoire by adding edible education, integrating edible education into their repertoire. Then you have people who are practitioners and tradition bearers within our local food community who want to add education to their portfolio in some ways.
We’re very fond of saying that you can grow tomatoes as a farmer, and that’s one way to earn a living, but you can also turn the growing and production of tomatoes into education. That’s another layer of added value for farmers as well. We end up having a cohort that’s made up of diverse stakeholders both in the world of education and our food community that come together and spend a year together and learn a lot from each other as much as they’re learning from all the various food communities that we engage with every week.
[00:14:04] Mair: That’s really interesting because it seems like it reflects to that idea that you’re learning from multiple stakeholders, you’re learning within community so not only in the places that you’re going but within the cohorts too. They’re learning from each other because they all have these different kinds of motivations for being in the program in different backgrounds. With all the community-based learning, has the certificate program had specific difficulties in light of the pandemic?
[00:14:33] Jon: Yes. Actually, unfortunately, due to the pandemic, the program has been on hiatus since our last cohort graduated at the end of 2019 and we were planning for our next cohort. We really had to close everything down because our work is so field-based, so hands-on, so much within the community. We have tried alternative forms of trying to keep not the program going, but elements of the program going. Other modalities to offer educational opportunities through doing some virtual book readings, some dialogues we’ve had on food and education in a time of crisis, bringing educators and people in the food community together to talk about what they’re doing to address the crisis.
We also are recognizing that the days of being able to have the freedom to have the access that we once had to the food community really, even in this environment now, are not reasonable. When you consider the rise of food insecurity, the challenges that businesses in the restaurant industry, for example, are having and everywhere from food production to food consumption, the huge economic hit that everyone’s been taking, and just how everyone in the food community today is really struggling to make a living, we felt it wasn’t quite fair to ask them to serve as a classroom for us while they’re struggling. We wanted to hear their voices but just felt like it was too much being space invaders in some ways.
That’s been what we’ve been doing to try to keep things alive but we’re also at the same time trying to figure out what a version of this program is going to look like in a post-pandemic world, not just because of the structural constraints around scheduling and what the conditions of COVID are in terms of having to mask or physical distancing, et cetera. We also recognize that the climate and setting and larger context in which this program is taking place in the way of its goals and objectives need to shift to meet a post-pandemic food world that is struggling and suffering in ways that the pandemic has caused that we can’t ignore.
Just the idea of the notion of helping schools build school gardens doesn’t seem as realistic and effective if those school gardens don’t have a particular purpose that’s addressing a food crisis in our community. We’re recognizing that we need to really bring into the center aspects of the program around food justice, human rights and economic justice, role of climate change, food access, food insecurity, food sovereignty. A lot of issues that we always touched upon but really we realized now need to be at the core if we’re going to figure out how to move forward as educators and as a food community.
[00:17:29] Mair: It seems like the pandemic has brought a lot of revelations about things that we knew, things that we thought about, but that have really come to the forefront now. Do you see food systems and food justice as having a more prominent presence in conversations? You’re immersed in it, but do you see that conversation coming to the broader public more?
[00:17:56] Jon: Yes, in a very big way both implicitly and explicitly. One of the blessings that comes out of the tremendous burden of this pandemic has been the opportunity to, in many ways, level the playing field of how everyday people see the role of food in their lives from early on in the pandemic when you had all kinds of food shortages and empty food shelves, to recognizing the incredible food surplus we had. When we started to see almost two food systems within a system, the system that caters to us as individuals, as consumers to grocery stores, restaurants, et cetera, farmers markets, all kinds of places where we individually or with our families get food.
Then the food system, the supply chain that was filling casinos and cruise ships, and even large academic institutions with food service that had really its own complete production and supply chain that was experiencing these gigantic surpluses and food waste because there was no place for the food to go. People all of a sudden were confronting food shortages, food supply issues, and food access issues in ways that many of us were aware of who were involved in this work and knew needed to change, but all of a sudden all of us in many respects were.
The other big outcome of this pandemic has been the heightening and huge, beyond what we already were experiencing, amassing of food insecurity, and a greater divide between the haves and have nots when it comes to food access, food sovereignty, food security, food safety, et cetera. I think what the pandemic did was compel a lot of us to look for avenues of food that we hadn’t in the past that were mostly local in their sources. We were recognizing that our local farmers, farmers markets, community-supported agriculture ventures were sustaining themselves through the pandemic in ways that larger industrial farms were not.
People started turning more to those sources and I think recognized, as a result of those relationships, they were ones they wanted to keep and continue with, and that through tough times, locally we have a better way of sustaining ourselves and often we do rely on national and global relationships. When we remember that the average food travels 1,500 miles to get to our grocery stores when we didn’t have access to that real-time food chain, that really in some ways is quite amazing when you look at how reliable it can be, all of a sudden was no longer reliable, it compelled us to look at alternatives that really had been the heart of what we’ve been studying through EduCulture and the leadership program.
Those opportunities for people to really have to bear witness to where our food comes in ways that many of us have had the luxury of not having to pay attention to because so much has been done for us, and we can in essence be passive bystanders in where our food comes from helped to hasten what I call the food revolution in a way that took the R off the revolution, and allowed us to move to potentially if we’re aware and awakened engaged enough, to make the changes now during this pandemic that can truly sustain us into the 21st century that so many of us have been struggling to advocate for in the face of a lot of other competitive issues prior to the pandemic.
I feel that we’re in a very special place if we really want to seize the opportunity. I think, in many respects, what we’re learning is as the pandemic allows us to move into more normal ways of accessing food, that we have the opportunity to resist the dominant food chain in ways that we weren’t aware of before as food citizens and make changes individually that collectively can add up to a greater change globally.
[00:22:00] Mair: Thank you for bringing up the supply chain because I think about that a lot too. It seems like right now there’s such a shift in consumption and people have a lot of grief and fear around that. I wonder if you see local food systems. I always try to find potential sources of joy and hope because I think we’re so deeply embedded in this grief right now. Are there places of joy and hope that you see?
[00:22:28] Jon: That’s wonderful, Mair, of you to ask that question because I think that we have to look to those moments of joy and those models of joy to help see us through these tough times. There are plenty of examples of that. While we were dealing with a lot of food shortages and supply chain issues, people were turning to resources and to ways of food knowledge and a food preparation and a food access that they really hadn’t thought of themselves in their lifetime, or maybe hearkened back to their parents or grandparents accessing food. The rise of home baking, home cooking, modern versions of victory gardens.
The notion of the victory garden movement came out of previous wars we in America have had in which people had to grow their own food so that food which was grown on farms could go out to serve the troops. They were known as victory gardens. I think we’re talking about many, many, many versions of various victory gardens that have popped up in not only people’s backyards or along streets, but out in parks and in other common spaces as people tried–
The rise of food pantries in a variety of different forms. One of them that I love, for example, are people who literally just took an old refrigerator, plugged it into a public space, and everyone in the neighborhood could come fill it up for people who didn’t have food. The way that restaurants were turning their food businesses into serving those that could not feed themselves and had donations from patrons who were paying for food, or just wanted to support their efforts and turned their kitchens into. in essence, versions of soup kitchens.
Since the pandemic and even in this current pandemic environment are continuing to work on feeding those populations and building that into their business models. We’ve seen amazing examples of people figuring out how to make things work for their community. The rise in the number of efforts that are trying to feed people who can’t feed themselves, but do it in a culturally responsive, ethically responsive way is also tremendous.
I think through the pandemic, we were forced to turn to our local communities, our local resources in ways we haven’t that led to tremendous creativity and tremendous ingenuity in trying to deal with real-world real-time issues while they were going on, rather than waiting for some larger statewide national effort to come in and fill those spaces. Hopefully, those models will continue and not just be seen as a pandemic remedy but, again, taking that R off of food revolution and looking at food evolution, make us rethink how we deal with our food sources.
[00:25:10] Mair: I hadn’t made this connection before. A group of people who worked in the foodservice industry, friends of mine, had an autonomous food share group that they’d run for years. In the pandemic when we were all unemployed, we started running it five days a week out of a restaurant that had shut down. We do like 200 meals five days a week and bring them out to specifically the unsheltered community in Minneapolis. I hadn’t really made that connection before, specifically that EduCulture and how that was a big shift for us too.
[00:25:46] Jon: If I can just follow up on that, Mair. What’s really powerful about these examples is they’re not just responding to an urgent need in the community, but they’re reminding us of what’s most important about community. Not just the very powerful act that you all were taking on by feeding people, but the importance of relationships, the importance of community, the importance of thinking, what is community for? What we realize is that doing things through food can accomplish things that we often think we can accomplish without food, but through food, either accomplish it in a better way, more successful way, more enduring way, more sustainable way.
That’s one of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned, and I think we collectively in all this work have learned, is that through food we can address issues of climate change, economic injustice, racial injustice. So many problems that we have in the world can be accomplished through food. They can be accomplished without food, but through food, they can be accomplished for the very reasons you were just giving that example.
It brings people together. It’s that notion of convivium, community through food, food through community. I think that’s one of the important lessons that we need to reclaim that had to do with the way that we all used to eat that many of us have lost in our modern culture, which is often absence of those relationships in some ways. That’s a very powerful example that you gave.
[00:27:16] Mair: We’ll talk about some more examples. I wonder in Puget Sound in Seattle when you’re talking about urban environments, are there specific ways that you think people can reconnect to food, to growing food in spaces where they might not have access to land directly, and building community in that way?
[00:27:36] Jon: Reclaiming the commons or one’s own personal public space from parking strip in front of one’s yard to an empty building, or even parts of parks that are unused, even public spaces like fence lines that go across public institutions. The idea of using those places and reclaiming them or repatriating them as places to grow food is as much a political act as anything else. I think in this day and age statements like that send powerful, diverse messages to numbers of different stakeholders about the importance of those places, the use of those places, and the opportunity to grow food in places that serve the public, not just ourselves.
Actually, I believe out in your neck of the woods in the Minneapolis area, there are some people who are in charge of public works and public development that are encouraging people to grow grapevines along their chain link fences so as people walk by, they can pick grapes. Have orchards out in public parks so that people can glean from those. Reclaim spaces that we aesthetically thought just needed to be big lawns as places to grow food that the public can have access to not just as people walking by and picking, but gleaning from all of those sources in order to feed those who have trouble finding food themselves.
I think in an urban setting, that’s not just important to model and consider, but also the relationship of what that looks like in a suburban setting, in a tribal setting, in a rural setting in which there’s tremendous amount of unused space that at one time was used for food or some other productive purpose, but no longer is. I think trying to find ways to reclaim and repatriate our past in order to seed our future are very, very important in the way of how we’re going to think about food in the future. It’s not just about coming with more modern ways.
To grow food vertically is great. Urban farms that are doing all kinds of hydroponic farming, which is great. I think we can’t forget where our food comes from. Remember that we can still grow food with soil and it could be in a five-pound gallon hanging from your deck that’s growing tomatoes or it can be a small little plot that you’re using to grow greens, it can be indoors, it can be outdoors.
I think anything that engages us with growing food and where food comes from is essential. We like to educate the youngest of the youngest we work with that in our modern age, we both need gardens and farms. They both serve very important purposes, but they have distinct functions and features in our communities. We can’t try to replace farms with gardens and we can’t try to replace gardens with farms, we need both. Whatever we can work on to grow food in wherever we can, to me, is an important act of humanity.
[00:30:39] Mair: I love that. I love thinking about sites of reclamation and resistance. Thank you for that. Now it’s time to wrap up. This connects and moves forward with all of these ideas. At the end of the show, we always ask our guests a final question, a way for our listeners to connect what they learned into their own lives. Jon, is there something folks hearing about edible education today can do in their everyday life to support food justice in their areas?
[00:31:07] Jon: Another wonderful question. There are so many possibilities for helping to remedy food injustice. I think we only need to think about the ways that we as individuals currently access our food to consider how inaccessible that can be to others in our lives. For those of us that are doing well enough under the pandemic and with all the issues that we’re facing can find ways to replicate ways in which we feed ourselves with those who don’t have the ability. That’s one way of trying to not differentiate the haves from the have nots and stereotype and stigmatize people by having to stand in a different line or wait in a different space.
For example, I’m working with some local farmers about how we can get donations to their community-supported agriculture programs, which allow their customers to come in and once a week or a couple of times a week, take a box of food that the farmer raises and packages for them and bring it home and have fresh, local, healthy, quality food at their fingertips, how they can offer that same CSA share to someone who can’t afford it. That person come into the same CSA, no one knows who can afford and who can’t afford it, rather than setting up something else for them.
Finding ways to do that at every level, whether it’s a restaurant level, community, grocery store, paying for someone behind you in line who you maybe are ahead of line. You can’t afford different ways to give people the same access. There’s so many people out there already doing this good work that one doesn’t have to go out and create it themselves. They can just join in similar to the example that you gave. I think also this is where edible education comes in and recognizing that we can find ways to eat healthy that don’t have to cost a lot.
They don’t have to make a struggle and anyone with some basic elements of healthy seeds, healthy soil can grow their own food. We’re also struggling at the same time with larger food systems issues that while they’ve leveled the playing field in terms of awareness, add another layer of challenge on top of trying to help those that are struggling. Volunteering in one of those environments will give you a lens into how those different forces are connecting or clashing and what you might be able to do to help make a difference in your own way.
[00:33:34] Mair: Thank you for that, Jon. I feel uplifted [laughs] like there’s something to do and that’s always a good feeling. Thank you for being on the show today.
[00:33:44] Jon: It was wonderful to be here. I’m very grateful that you had me on the show. Thank you.
[00:33:49] Jasper: Please follow Antioch social media if you want to stay up to date on when the edible education program will start accepting students again. EduCulture, the nonprofit that Jon runs, has a website. We’ll link to it in our show notes. Our guest host today was Mair Allen. We’re going to put more information about Mair and where you can find their writing in those same show notes. I want you to know that we post these show notes on our website, theseedfield.org, where you’ll also find full episode transcripts, prior episodes, and more.
The Seed Field Podcast is produced by Antioch University. Our editor is Lauren Instenes. A special thanks to Karen Hamilton and Melinda Garland.
Thank you for spending your time with us today. That’s it for this episode. We hope to see you next time. Don’t forget to plant a seed, sow a cause, and win a victory for humanity. From Antioch University, this has been The Seed Field Podcast.
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