Editor’s Note: We’ve gone on a search-and-rescue mission to find amazing stories and essays published in earlier print editions of Rootstock. Today’s throwback, “Ecoliteracy,” was written by Michael K. Stone for the Spring 2010 edition of Rootstock.

The unprecedented environmental challenges facing us require leaders and citizens who understand how the natural world works; see the connections between human activity and the environment; and have the knowledge, values, and skills to act on that understanding. Assisting schools as they prepare students for these roles is the mission of the Center for Ecoliteracy, a nonprofit based in Berkeley, California. Through our Smart by Nature™ initiative, we support education for sustainable living through books, teachers’ guides, seminars, a sustainability leadership academy, conference presentations, and consulting with schools.

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In working with schools for nearly two decades, we have seen the value of food as a focus for sustainability education. How we grow, process, transport, market, and prepare food is critical to issues from resource management to pollution prevention, water and soil conservation, and the vitality of local communities. Food is an ideal entry point for understanding relationships among issues such as public health, animal welfare, energy use, and climate change.

The best learning comes from combining hands-on and minds-on experiences. The Center for Ecoliteracy helps schools integrate their practices and teaching for sustainability. We promote school gardens and farm-to-school programs where students experience ecological concepts firsthand and learn where food comes from, how it gets to their plates, and the web of relations embodied in every bite. Students learn from classroom lessons, but also from whether their lunch reinforces or contradicts what they’re taught in nutrition class, whether the school uses energy wisely, purchases from local farmers, or engages the community in recycling and composting.

Food is a major focus of Smart by Nature. The book describes strategies, lessons learned, and inspiring success stories of schools that are changing their relationship to food, greening their campus and curriculum, conducting environmental audits, and transforming themselves into models of sustainable community.

Another of our books, Big Ideas: Linking Food, Culture, Health, and the Environment, provides guidance, concepts and activities keyed to grade level benchmarks, for investigating the health and environmental impacts of food choices.

Many other Center resources can be downloaded for free from our website, including Rethinking School Lunch, a comprehensive framework for reforming school food; Getting Started, a guide for creating school gardens; a discussion guide to the Academy Award-nominated film Food, Inc.; and a visual guide to Linking Food, Culture, Health, and the Environment.

For more information about the work of the Center for Ecoliteracy, please see our website, www.ecoliteracy.org.

Michael K. Stone is senior editor at the Center for Ecoliteracy and the primary author of Smart by Nature: Schooling for Sustainability (Watershed Media/University of California Press, 2009) and Ecological Literacy: Educating Our Children for a Sustainable World (Sierra Club Books, 2005). He was a founding faculty member and academic vice president of World College West in nothern California.