Ask a city kid where her food comes from and she’s likely to reply, "the grocery store." Hoping to change that, and teach kids that food comes from farms and farmers, FamilyFarmed.org is hosting an organic food and farm expo in the heart of the Loop on March 10-11, with most family events slated for Saturday.
"Being an urban parent, it was great to bring the country to my children," says Portia Belloc Lowndes, who brought her two children to the first expo last year. "The entire Expo was exciting because they were talking to farmers. My children were able to actually sit down and taste the difference between organic and nonorganic [foods]. It was hands-on and very interactive."
This year, children again will have a chance to taste-test organic foods, learn how to read food labels and watch worms turn food and yard waste into compost at the Expo’s "Organic Kids Activity Corner."
Knowing that food grows in a field rather than in plastic bags at the grocery store "gives them respect for the land and the profession of the farmer," says Belloc Lowndes, who worked at the Expo last year and is spokeswoman for Slow Food Chicago, a nonprofit local foods advocacy group. "Hopefully you influence children to shop at farmers markets and when they get older they’ll demand [fresh food]."
FamilyFarmed.org is part of the Chicago nonprofit environmental group Sustain. The group aims to raise awareness of organic and sustainable farming. Organic farming avoids synthetic pesticides, fertilizers and genetically modified organisms. Sustainable farming focuses on using renewable resources and maintaining soil health. Traditional farming practices can deplete soil nutrients and rely on oil and natural gas.
Twenty-seven percent of U.S. consumers buy organic food weekly, according to the Hartman Group, a health trends consulting firm in Bellevue, Wash. And Expo organizers are betting children can push those numbers higher.
"If we can engage children in better food choices, we think they’re going to drive more purchases and connections in this local food system," says Jim Slama, president of Sustain.
Parents could also be persuaded to make healthier food choices for their children, he says. "There’s still parts of rural America where organic is considered weird hippie food," Slama says.
But experts in one study found that organic foods are healthier for children. Children on a regular diet had traces of pesticides—organophosphates—in their urine, according to the study published in Environmental Health Perspectives, a peer-reviewed journal of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. But the chemicals were undetectable when fruit- and vegetable-based foods were switched to organics. The chemicals were detected again once the child resumed a regular diet.
Organophosphates can cause mild reactions such as dizziness and more devastating long-term complications including neurological, developmental and reproductive disorders, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Family events at the FamilyFarmed.org Expo are scheduled for 9 a.m.-6 p.m. March 11 at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St., Chicago. Tickets are $15 in advance through the Web site, $20 at the door. Family rate for two adults and two kids is $30 in advance, $40 at the door. For more information, call (312) 951-8999 or visit www.familyfarmed.org.
Tara E. McLaughlin, Medill News Service