The anti-Hunger Games

We have hungry people in Guilford County. Lots of them. We have sun exposed windowsills in the Guilford County schools. Lots of them. Hmm … maybe someone will develop an educational tool to teach students to grow food on those windowsills to help feed the hungry. Wait a minute — somebody has!

When Michael Norbury was in public school he liked to draw. He was good at it and other kids paid him to draw caricatures, comics strips, and T-shirts. But school hadn’t taught him basic business skills and he was unable to sustain the enterprise. He wondered what would have happened if he had received business training. Then over the years Norbury became interested in addressing community problems. He combined his community interests and creative skills to start and manage ReBuildUp, LLC. ReBuildUp is a Curriculum Development company that helps develop programs to deliver education in new ways to improve the student learning experience. It has a focus on Health and Entrepreneurship, delivered through “Project Based Learning”, “Service Learning”, and “Gamification”. So, let the anti-hunger games begin!

Norbury created the Classroom To Food Pantry Pipeline (CFPP) as a Service Learning program to connect classrooms with nearby food pantries. The pilot program kicked off earlier this year at Ragsdale High School in Jamestown. CFPP uses creative games to teach students nutrition and entrepreneurship. They also learn how to grow food hydroponically on the classroom windowsills. Lastly, they harvest the food every 30 days and deliver it to a food pantry. Here’s how one of the participating students summarized the program:

“It seems cool to be involved with and knowing that the plants you make will help other people.”

Heather Pendrak teaches Game Art & Design at Ragsdale; she hosted the pilot CFPP program in her classroom. She says the students started off the program playing games about nutrition and the health benefits of making healthy food choices. Her class includes a unit on making card games. CFPP let the students see how a game was made that is educational, fun, and has the potential to help people. She thought this would be a good motivator for when they created their own games.

It also helped with her Scientific Visualization classes.

Pendrak says the “CFPP provided a real world op portunity for gathering information they could study.

Students weighed and measured growth and production to make long term predictions about how much they would have to grow to support a typical family over time.”

Norbury has been busy looking for more schools, sponsors, and pantries to participate. Westchester Country Day School in High Point is one of the schools looking to take part this Fall; Mary Ann Smith is their Director of Communications and Marketing. She says the most important work they do at Westchester is to teach their students the importance of giving back to others. The CFPP program gives students that opportunity in the most organic of ways. Smith says: “Students will see first-hand how to grow food, watch it grow before their eyes, and raise their awareness about food insecurity in our area.”

For the pilot program Norbury used a seed packet of mixed greens. His choice reflected a desire to provide more nutritious fresh food to food pantries, which typically are stocked with mostly canned food. Secondly, the greens mixture grows well in the modified hydroponic windowsill bins being used. He expects to offer more seed variety as the program progresses. Another neat aspect of the program is that it uses empty water bottles from the school cafeteria for making the growing containers. So it reuses an item that would otherwise be recycled or discarded.

There are three phases to the entire program. Phase 1 is the Growing Food part; some participants may choose to only use Phase 1. But there are also Phases 2 and 3. Phase 2 is Nutrition Education. Remember Norbury’s drawing skills? He’s created beautiful card games that involve the students, or whoever is playing, in learning about nutrition and basic customer/seller skills. Phase 3 is about Entrepreneurship. Norbury envisions teaching food pantry recipients how to grow the food and set up a marketplace for selling it. The marketplace might be a simple as a church parking lot on Saturdays.

The program doesn’t cost much, but still needs sponsors to cover the expenses. Michael Robinson Accounting sponsored the pilot program at Ragsdale. Carl Vierling of the Greater High Point Food Alliance has helped line up food pantries to participate. There are no major obstacles to growing the CFPP program. The challenge is finding teachers and food pantries who want to participate, connecting them to one another, and finding program sponsors. Norbury and others are busy addressing these challenges. It would be great to have the Guilford County School Board endorse the program! Anyone who would like more information can go to: The Classroom To Food Pantry Pipeline is a great way to make education more fun and meaningful while helping to address our food insecurity problem. In the words of one of the participating students: “I think it’s an amazing way to incorporate school with everyday life.” !

LANDAU’s column appears the fourth Wednesday of each month.