As a first generation Italian-American, I feel safe in saying I know a little bit about the value and simple pleasures of good food. My parents were both from large families in Southern Italy, and early on my mother instilled in me the importance of growing, cooking and savoring (preferably with friends!) the freshest ingredients from the garden. It is a perspective that inspired me to found Bon Appétit Management Company, and to transform the food that people eat at college and in the workplace. I want everyone to know where their food comes from and to appreciate freshly harvested, cooked-from-scratch, simple and nutritious meals -- whether they were lucky enough to eat like that at home or not.
As a father, it would be easy for me to bemoan the terrible disconnect from food and the rising diet-related problems we all see in the next generation of young Americans. I grew up chomping on fresh tomatoes like they were apples, the juice dribbling down my chin. In Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, a room full of first graders can't even name a tomato. To say I find this disheartening would be a colossal understatement. But like Michelle Obama and her groundbreaking Let's Move campaign, I am in this game to change it, not to complain about it. And we're not the only ones.
On college campuses everywhere, I see another side of young Americans. In greater and greater numbers, our college students are consciously re-connecting themselves to our beautiful countryside, the fertile soil and the flavorful ingredients of my own childhood through student-run farms and gardens. These green spaces offer so much more than recreation -- they offer education in sustainable living and farming, they offer health-giving meals in our cafés, and they offer a way for young people to create a life centered on community, hard work and a love for sustaining this planet we all share.
In a 2009 empirical study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education & Behavior, researchers found gardening paired with nutrition education to be far more effective at getting kids to eat their vegetables than nutrition education alone. Gardening at any age helps promote healthy eating habits for life. From my perspective, it's about pride (something my Italian heritage also gave me in spades). When you grow, care for, harvest, cook and eat something yourself, you are absolutely bursting with pride. There's something magical about growing your own food, and it's an experience that every American should have the opportunity to experience. Simple pride can be enough to make a college student take triumphant delight in their garden's collard greens and devour their café's house-made broccoli soup, even when they once subsisted on soda and snack foods.
When I started Bon Appétit Management Company, there were very few student-run gardens out there. Today, we help sustain student-run gardens at many of our 85-plus college campuses by buying and promoting their on-campus bounty. In 2009, we created the Student Garden Guide as a way to promote student-run gardens beyond our Bon Appétit's campus cafés.
As the back to school season is upon us, I encourage you to pass this guide along to a young college-bound person you know. It will help them get (or keep!) their hands in the dirt, and it's a quick read with everything from growing and harvesting to selling and promoting fresh produce on campus. The guide is part of a larger commitment we have to promoting healthy, clean and fair food nationwide.
From our decade-old Farm to Fork program, where we source food from small farms within a 150-mile radius, to our recent partnership with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to end slavery in Florida's tomato fields, we want to shape the future of food for the next generation. I can't give everyone my own experiences of leisurely family mealtimes, but I can work with our campus gardens and cafés to give rise to the same reverence and passion for good food in our customers. Just like gardens, change always begins with planting seeds.
Palo Alto, California