As a disclaimer, I used to be a high school teacher in Richmond, Calif in the exact urban schools of which Caitlin Flanagan writes about.
This post is in response to the recently published article in the Atlantic magazine by Caitlin Flanagan titled, “Cultivating Failure.”
Ms. Flanagan makes the argument that the school garden movement building in California and nationwide is somehow stripping students of valuable time to become “educated,” dooming urban students to a life of poverty and “cultivating failure” as her title expresses. She begins with the idea that immigrant students from Mexico, who come to the United States in search of an education are being pushed back into the fields of manual labor through their middle school garden. I wish I could just claim how ridiculous this viewpoint is and be done with it, but I take her feelings seriously and feel the need to correct the record.
In her article, she makes the claim that she traveled to deeply urban areas near Compton, Calif., and found a bountiful harvest of cheap, healthy produce in the local Ralphs and other supermarkets backing up her claim that there is no need for school gardens that provide “access” to healthy food because it is everywhere. There are some serious flaws with this argument. First off, a recent study released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture tells us that 14.6 percent of American households, approximately 17 million households are “food insecure” meaning that they can’t afford a healthful diet or lack dependable access. Many communities like West Oakland, Calif., Baltimore and Richmond, Calif., lack supermarket chains within a reasonable distance. Her contention thus smacks of a very dangerous fallacy of composition. A second problem I have with Ms. Flanagan’s assessment is that even if there was incredible access of all of our urban and rural residents to great healthy produce, which there is not, it not would diminish the importance and need for school gardens and even more intensive food production-focused endeavors like The Food Project in Boston, Urban Roots in Austin, Urban Tilth in Richmond, Calif., and Alice Waters’ edible schoolyard. With staggering obesity rates in the United States, our children have not just lost access, they have lost their connection to food. Gardening is less about manual labor than it is about re-connecting to your body, to food and to health. Read More >