by Marion Nestle
Aug 5 2010

John Dewey on school farms. Reauthorize child nutrition!

Thanks to Daniel Bowman Simon who knows that I love old materials on American food politics.  He just sent me this 1917 World War I pamphlet—written by the distinguished educator, John Dewey—urging schools to teach kids how to farm.  Dewey was thinking of the war effort, of course, but also for kids’ health and character development.

What, then, is the duty of the school? In the fight for food, and it will be a fight, school children can  help…With some intelligent direction, these school children and older boys and girls and men and women might easily produce on the available land an average of $75 each in vegetables and fruits for their own tables or for sale in their immediate neighborhood; fresh and crisp through all the growing months and wholesomely canned and preserved for use in winter.

This would add $750,000,000 to the best form of food supply of the country without cost of transportation or storage and without profits of middlemen…In addition to the economic profits, there would be for the children health and strength, removal from temptation to vice, and education of the best type; and for older persons, rest and recreation in the open air and the joy of watching things grow.

What a good idea.

Dewey’s ideas remind me of the child nutrition reauthorization bills now languishing in Congress.    The bills fund school meals, WIC, and other programs in this country’s safety net for kids from poor families.  The bills have plenty of support from anti-hunger, health, and nutrition advocacy groups.  They even have bipartisan support says Senator Richard Lugar (Rep-Indiana).  The First Lady has called on Congress to pass them without delay.

What’s holding them up?  The same thing that is holding up the food safety bill: a dysfunctional Congress.

One can dream that the bills will help schools promote gardening along with everything else they are supposed to do.  But it sure seems like the time to push Congress to get busy and start doing its job.  Now!

Addition: The Senate passed the bill this afternoon!

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  • Cathy Richards

    brilliant post. The fight does indeed go on.

  • Few philosophers could remain so relevant today. Thanks for sharing it!

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  • Bobby

    congress is dysfunctional? Well, you get the best congress that money can buy, unfortunately it’s corporate money that’s buying congress these days, and not the people of the great USofA funding political campaigns anymore (what a quaint notion: government of, by, and for the people).
    Really, the problem is pretty simple. Time to take back your congress people.

  • Anthro


    I agree up til the last bit: Just how do we “take back” the congress. Everyone who runs is subject to the same system that amounts to buying your way in. Without major campaign finance reform, I don’t see how we change things.

    Of course the “people” are funding elections! Haven’t you heard? Corporations are now “people”.

  • this is a good idea for school children. aside from them being healthier, they will become more well rounded in character, learning the basics. i heard of this school, im not sure if it’s in the us, that has gardening as part of their curriculum and the produce is the one they use for cooking organic lunches for the kids. i wish i could remember the name of that school!

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