Teaching children about organic begins with the soil

 Seeking to teach the next generation and their parents about organic farming, Whole Kids Foundation® has launched a free tablet-based application called Starting with Soil as a fun way for children to understand what it looks like and feels like to grow food in harmony with nature.

“It is so challenging even for adults to understand the meaning of organic,” explains Nona Evans, President and Executive Director of Whole Kids Foundation, who envisions that it will be a great way for families to learn about healthy soil and organic farming while spending time together.

Initial work to develop the application began in 2015, the Year of Soil.

 “We wanted to create a playful way to help kids understand the importance of healthy soil and see first-hand the roles that plants, animals and people play in keeping it balanced,” said Evans. “We think it’s critical that kids understand where food comes from, the process it goes through to land on our plates, and the significant effects these processes have on our environment, communities and bodies.”

A $50,000 grant from United Natural Foods Inc. provided seed money for the project. Whole Kids Foundation collaborated with the Center for Ecoliteracy, an organization based in Berkeley with over 20 years of experience in designing effective curriculum for children, to build the story line and design the app with engaging content. The result is an interactive story told in four chapters. The first three chapters demonstrate how nature creates soil and how long this process takes, the importance of pollinators, and the critical roles animals, the weather, microorganisms and cover crops play in organic farming. The final chapter shows ways families can explore organic education at home, in school, in the community, or while they shop.

Slow motion video allows children to behold bees pollinating and butterflies extracting nectar. Time-lapse photography captures the way apple, radish and bean seeds become seedlings that burst through topsoil. Nematodes, algae and protozoa make cameo appearances. Young users can plant seeds, build a compost pile, drag a microscope over organisms in soil to get a better look, and view the symbiosis at work when corn, beans and squash are planted together.

The app is designed at a third-grade reading level, which, Evans explains, is considered the average American reading level.

Working for over 30 years in the food industry and at Whole Foods Market for 18 years, Evans says families are the target audience. “Spending time together and sharing the app with each other can be a fun and learning experience,” she says, adding, “We have found that children readily understand that the health of our world depends on the health of our soil.”

Since its inception in 2011, Whole Kids Foundation, a Whole Foods Market Foundation dedicated to helping children eat better and enjoy it, has invested $18 million in programs that have served more than five million children in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.

For more information or to download the app, go to the Whole Kids Foundation website.   //

Barbara Haumann is Senior Writer/Editor for the Organic Trade Association.