Granola as Teaching Tool

In a first for our little company, Yale student volunteers with YSEC (Yale Student Environmental Coalition) doing educational outreach have brought Nate's Naturals granola to fourth-graders at Fair Haven Elementary School to illustrate a lesson about local food.

Yale freshman Justine Appel has become a serious fan of Nate's Naturals granola through frequent visits to the Wooster Square Farmers' Market. Last week she emailed us to see about buying some granola for outreach:

My friend Marios and I are going to Fair Haven School this Friday for our final lesson, which will be on food. We go teach fourth graders every other week about environmental science and environmental issues, and for this last lesson, we want to provide some sort of snack to show how delicious local food can be! …We would love to bring some of [your granola] with us for our fourth graders to taste.

This sounded really cool, so naturally we donated five bags of granola (one of each kind) to Justine and Marios' program. And we wanted to find out more about them and YSEC's educational outreach. So Justine and Marios consented to a brief interview. Nate talked with them on Thursday evening, April 26 2012.

Tell me a little about yourselves. How did you come to be here and doing what you do?


Marios: I'm from Newark, Delaware. Throughout high school I was involved with my environmental club and had consistently gone back to the kindergarten at my K-12 school and taught about the environment, read books [to the kids] and that kind of thing. When I came to Yale I wanted to continue that, and right now I'm a political science major but I'm also interested in environmental issues.
Justine: I'm from Montclair, New Jersey, and my interests in the environment and working with children have never come together until now. I've been a camp counselor and I babysit a lot [laughs] but I've always worked with environmental issues, like planning eco-fairs in my hometown, trying to improve waste management at my high school and things like that, so this was an opportunity to leave campus and get connected with New Haven in a way that also promotes issues that I care about.
Marios Falaris, ES '14 and Justine Appel, ES '15

How did you get involved with YSEC?

Marios: I just found them at one of the [student] activity fairs, and found out about the specific project group [Educational Outreach] and said, "That sounds perfect!"

Justine: I think there are a gazillion activities that you can do [at Yale] and a lot of issues-based, service-based activities, so you find out about them, and you visit meetings and then you figure out what you want to be serious about. I really like the people in YSEC and can see that they really care about the environment, and not only that, but they care about specific issues relating to the environment.
There are different [YSEC] project groups, so we focus on education but there's also an enviro-advocates group that does political work; food action, which works with sustainable food; project BRIGHT which works with solar energy, and a bunch of things like that. I really liked the people I found, and the amount of work they were willing to put in, so that's why I stuck with YSEC.

Nate: Justine, you are doing a summer internship with the [Yale] Sustainable Food Project.

Justine: Yeah, I'm going to be on a farm this summer.

Is there a lot of overlap between YSEC and SFP?

Not really at all -- the Sustainable Food Project is very much through the College and is run, I think, through the Office of Sustainability (you'll have to fact-check that**).

** Editor's Note: Correct. The Office of Sustainability funds SFP.

Justine: It has a director that is employed by Yale, whereas YSEC is a student organization and is allowed to do advocacy work because it’s not connected to the school. So we can fight for things that are more political then YSFP can. YSFP runs a discussion series and has farm work days, so a lot of the goals overlap.

Nate: Are you a gardener?

(laughs) I used to help my mom plant things, but not much, no.

So this is quite an education for you.


Nate: Tell me a little bit about the educational outreach program at Fair Haven Elementary and YSEC’s environmental education outreach in general.

Marios: The environmental education program was started a few years ago by a few students who thought that there should be a focus in the New Haven curriculum (on the environment) when children are a little bit younger so that they can find their place in the environment and recognize that there is not really a division between the environment and home, or the environment and school. We reached out to Fair Haven and this year we started in two new [fourth grade] classrooms.

Justine: It’s really funny - one of the first things we do is show them a picture of a forest and say, “Is this the environment?” and they’ll say “Yeah” and then we show them a picture of New Haven and we say, “Is this the environment?” and they go “No.” It’s really interesting tapping into what their ideas are and they’ll know a lot about photosynthesis but they don’t know where we get food from. It’s interesting to see where the gaps are and to help fill them. To get them thinking about things that you don’t normally get from a fourth grade class.

Nate: Have you seen a change in kids’ attitudes and understanding of the environment and their environment as you’ve been going through this program?

Marios: As you’re asking [the students] questions you start out with a question to the group and you judge what they know and don’t know and by the end of the session they have some really interesting suggestions about ways that they can use less energy or help fight climate change in their individual actions.

Justine: I think what it does is to spark a connection that may already be there and calls attention to something that they knew was a harmful practice or that they understood to a certain extent but never really related back to the bigger picture which we get a lot into. All the different lessons that we teach are very interconnected and it's fun to see them make those connections and for them to remember things that we taught them two weeks ago -- like if we talked to them about water pollution and then we’re talking about waste, to see them form connections of different ways that people destroy water ecosystems by polluting. It’s really interesting and I think they get a lot out of it and they also get excited about it.

Nate: What do you each see yourself doing in five years?

Marios: Perhaps I’ll be working in a non-profit. Where in the world it would be I have no idea. Or maybe I’ll be back in school, in grad school. Unsure.

Do you think your main focus will remain related to the environment?

Marios: I’m interested in diplomacy and peace in conflict studies so that of course is related to the environment in many places, especially with water resources. I’m specifically interested in south Asia. The environment won’t be separate from future things that I’m interested in.

Justine: My parents would hate to hear me say this but I’m just really interested in local food right now. This could totally change. I’m thinking of majoring in linguistics, so this seems totally unrelated, but I want to do things that help bring more local food into cities and do more urban farming, community building work, and maybe even with schools, doing something with education and bringing more awareness of food and farming to children. I think that our generation is getting back to the importance of food so I think working with young people actually would be really cool. But that’s just me saying that right now.

Nate: Thanks very much and good luck!

Marios & Justine: Thank you!