Oakland, School Gardens and the Miseducation of Black Nutrition


By: Charles Cole, III

Yesterday (October 17th), I was honored to sit on a panel at the Black Farmers and Urban Gardeners Conference at Laney College in Oakland. The panel was on School Gardens and had a panel of some pretty experienced urban gardeners. I stuck out like Malcolm X at a Toby Keith concert. I have no experience with gardening at all – not even a smidgen. I was there to speak on affecting and changing culture with students.

I’m a big advocate for school gardens because they teach us about health and nutrition early. When I was a kid, I can remember going to the donut shop ever day before school and getting a chocolate raised donut and a bottle of Sprite. Throughout the day, I ate chips and candy. At lunch I ate Cup Noodles with Doritos and a Sprite (Sprite had a stranglehold on the market in my hood).

My emphasis on the panel was to discuss how school gardens can be impactful for Black students. I talked about the need to change culture. I wanted to discuss how the Oakland Unified School District is investing in school gardens and fresh food through the Central Kitchen we are building. Our young people need to know what the food they eat is doing to them. They need to understand how to take care of themselves and each other.

Proper nutrition is a habit. The fact that Black folks die more than others from hypertension and diabetes is a problem. As a student, I had no real understanding around nutrition. Didn’t know what the food I was consuming was doing to my body. I had no idea that the Cup Noodles had a ton of sodium and what affect it had on me. I realistically drank at least 3 bottles on soda a day, never water. I hated water then and I kinda hate it now. I have to force myself to drink water today. It’s hard to break a habit.

What I am seeing from students now that are involved in school gardens is they have a different relationship with nutrition. I see young Black children learning how to grow and prepare healthy food. On top of that, these young people are experiencing new pathways into careers. We have to expose our children to as many pathways as possible.

To truly be transformational for Oakland students, we have to educate the whole child. That includes ensuring that our kids have an enriched understanding of how to be healthy.

-Cole Out

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