Hunter wrote from California:
In the fifth grade, I had the idea to start a movement with a few other students focusing on both personal and environmental health. We spent the year working and researching with my school’s
principal and a local gardening expert before finally planting a “garden wall” of native vegetation as a way to block off the airport to the north of our school aesthetically, and to show that in spirit our school and community was working toward a healthier place. The plants at this stage didn’t provide an edible option as I had hoped, but I was determined to see that part of my dream come true. Though I graduated and went to middle school, I felt the project had room to grow into a movement.
I came back as a Peer Assistance mentor and worked with the Green Team’s
next incarnation and in classrooms with students. What started as the garden wall grew into the idea for an on campus garden, dubbed the Cougar Patch, as a way to help the entire campus community get involved in the spirit of healthful eating and environmental awareness. The garden got backing from the school district after testimony from me and other stakeholders in the program, and it started scaling up from there. Once the teachers saw how students across so many age groups were engaged by
the program, it quickly spread to all the other schools in our district. I still stop by to work in the gardens and have seen first hand how excited the students are during community garden days, as it has truly become part of the campus and its culture.
The programs focused on healthy eating put the founding ideas of my team
into action with the garden’s first harvest. It was determined the harvest from the schools garden could be used in healthy eating lessons for the students. Each class picks some of the harvest together, and then a teacher or parent volunteer prepares a dish with their pickings and serves it to
the students. While preparing the food and eating it, they discuss the benefits of vegetarian options, healthy eating, and fresh food. Since everyone had put so much work into raising the crops
in the garden, you never would have seen a bunch of kids more excited about eating their vegetables.
I am still involved in the programs across the district, though my
involvement varies by program and time of year. For example during the high school’s Grades of Green campaign, I was involved at all the school sites as I tried to bring our composting programs together with those of all the school sites to prepare for a presentation to our city counsel.
I am also heavily involved around Health Fair time each year, when I try to assess what each school is doing and how they compare to the city’s Wellness Day programs. All in all though, the community garden is still my baby. It provides the most engaging long term education and direct
access to healthy, vegetarian foods of any of the activities. I am the most passionate and inspired by those efforts and how they have allowed me to start a movement that spread across my district and community.
Hunter also worked to add vegetarian options at school events in high school. He reports:
The veggie options at school events have been varied depending on the type and size of event. A few examples are at our football snack bar where I implemented veggie patties for hamburgers, vegetarian noodles, and meatless burritos on Mexican nights onto our menu. The football items sold very well, as vegetarianism is a growing movement in my town, and the students and parents alike were excited to have an option to fit their diets. At our Student Government Mixers I made sure that meatless pasta, pizza, or stir-fry (depending on the theme of the evening) was available. It was also important to me to set aside specific vegetarian plates so that regardless of when people got up to get their food, there was still food available they could eat because unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it) sometimes people who were not strict vegetarians would eat all of the meatless options early, leaving the vegetarians without food. I also implemented veggie options at our campus dances. At our prom, a vegetarian lasagna was offered and one of the first items to run out, which I believe showed that with an open mind even people who don’t
follow the vegetarian lifestyle can still enjoy the food.
Hunter is working with the The Salad Creations program, which currently
is still in a pilot phase. The company, which focuses on fresh products
and customizable salads, had the option where teachers could drop off
orders ahead of time and the cafeteria could get the salads to them by
My role has really been as an advocate for keeping the program
as a full fledged service and opening it up to a wider audience. While I
know it would be harder to scale up to availability to the entire school
population, I have held my stance that the added options for vegetarians
and non-vegetarians alike who are searching for healthier foods at
school are worth the effort.
In 5 years, I hope to be in Medical School, hopefully
finding a program that allows me to explore my interests in human
health, nutrition, and environmental health as well. This plan for my
future also related to the story of how I became a vegetarian, because
both of my passions stem from an illness … When I was diagnosed with a
rare, chronic disease, I began to look into ways to make my body
healthier. After fully grasping the benefits it could have on my health
while allowing me to take a stand on issues I felt so strongly about, I
finally made the personal commitment to vegetarianism. My health has
never been better and I feel great emotionally knowing that fewer
animals are dying and fewer forest are being clear cut due to my decision.
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