Fighting childhood obesity, helping schools save money, and saving the planet with Ecopreneur Dan Gibbs.
Childhood obesity is on the rise, and having a healthy school lunch is one way to fight this problem. While many schools are working to improve their lunch programs, it’s not uncommon still to see pre-packaged and unhealthy foods piled on plates with not a fresh fruit or vegetable anywhere in sight. Changing how kids eat is one of the most effective ways to improve their health, which is why school lunches are getting so much attention these days from people like Michelle Obama and chef Jamie Oliver, and why Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in December 2010. As the founder and CEO of Home Town Farms, ecopreneur Dan Gibbs has a vision that can help, getting school lunches and our kids back on the right track.
Home Town Farms is a pioneer in the development of vertical, organic, urban farming as the solution to many of the problems stemming from how we grow and eat food. Growing plants upright in urban greenhouses might seem unusual, but the method produces several advantages compared to conventional agriculture. By growing crops like tomatoes, cucumbers, or beans this way, they can boost productivity six to eight fold, growing more food in less space. Growing food with such a high productivity method means it can be done in the urban and suburban areas where land is at a premium. These methods reduce water use by 85%, reduce fertilizer use by 80%, and reduce land use by 70%, all of which means it costs less to grow food using their method. And that means you can give kids fresh healthy food for lunch that will cost less than the bad food they’re eating today. It’s hard to argue with numbers like that.
Another problem with our food is the vast distance it often journeys before getting to our plate, thousands of miles in some cases. Home Town Farms moves food production back to where food is used in cities, saving 90% of the fuel costs normally involved in distribution and eliminating the need for picking food far too early and trucking it thousands of miles. The result is fresh, healthy, and low cost food that can be grown where it used, close to schools for example.
“We have a real solution for schools across the country that will drastically reduce the cost of food for schools, and provide the kids with healthier and larger selection of fresh vegetables and berries,” says Gibbs. “It also provides a substantial amount of cash for schools that can be used any way the school decides. This is a win for the kids, our schools and the environment.”
One of the projects Gibbs and Home Town Farms are developing right now is in collaboration with the Encinitas Union School District, in San Diego. The District is exploring a plan that would use five acres of District property for vertical farming. The produce grown would be used to supplement the school lunch program.
District superintendent, Dr. Tim Baird is a big supporter of the concept. “A project like this will guarantee for schools a steady supply of the highest quality fruits and vegetables at lower prices than is possible anywhere else,” said Baird. “The schools benefit because of the money they save on lunches while improving the lunch quality dramatically at the same time. With school budgets tight, there isn’t a school around that wouldn’t love to save money, and doing it while actually improving the lives of their kids and not just slashing budget items is an incredible opportunity.”
The school project in Encinitas provides educational opportunities as well. Most kids these days think food comes in a can or a paper bag. They’ve never seen food growing, and the lack of any connection to how their food is grown may contribute to poor food choices in life, because they can’t tell the difference between poor food and “real food”, as Michael Pollan (author of In Defense of Food and The Omnivore’s Dilemma) calls it.
With Home Town Farms kids will get better food, schools will get a better budget, and we all get a healthier planet. Sounds good to me. Dan is just starting on his mission to transform school lunches and how we grow and eat food. But with such a powerful concept and with help from all of us, the odds are on his side.
Glenn Croston is the author of “75 Green Businesses” and “Starting Green”, helping green businesses to get started and grow.