Archive for October, 2009

Local Food

Dairy Farm with Red Barn in Autumn

Dairy Farm in New York State in the evening in autumn.

 © genekrebs - istockphoto.com

     I recognize that this is a bit random but it does inform my teaching.  

     Today I took some time to process my thoughts about local food in response to a survey.   This book –Sharing the Harvest by Elizabeth Henderson – explains Community Supported Agriculture (CSA).  I am proud to count her among my friends and thankful for all that she and the other farmers – Greg, Ammie, et al. – at Peacework Farm do to supply my family with fresh, local, delicious veggies.  Peacework Farm supplies almost all of the food for the GVOCSA – Genesee Valley Organic Community Supported Agriculture – an organization that does part of the work of bringing fresh, farm produce into my city.  

     Please keep reading.  My answers are in italics.


1. People like to eat food from local sources for many reasons. What are the reasons that motivate you personally?

     The main reason is consumer education – seriously. I am a Chemist who was horrified after I looked into the details of the chemicals used on our food supply so I switched to eating organic food. Another friend started me in the GVOCSA by sharing a share with me for the first year or two (this was over 15 years ago).

     Through being part of the CSA and later the CSA Core Group, I participated in many discussions with the farmers and other members about the myriad of social and economic as well as chemical issues around food. I am now as mindful of the importance of eating local as I am about the importance of clean food. It is important to eat locally produced food because – it is less costly both financially and environmentally to distribute food grown locally,

  • it keeps money and jobs in the community,
  • it provides an opportunity to interact directly with the people who grow vegetables and raise animals for my food [certification isn’t as important to me as asking for information and trusting the farmers],
  • it directly connects people to the health of the soil, air, and water as well as ensuring a more secure food supply.
  • It also connects people to the weather and regional diseases – a burden generally faced only by farmers. This summer was tomato blight and a cold, wet growing season.
  • farmer’s markets provide community meeting places that facilitate connections,
  • CSA also builds community across diverse groups within a regional space.

2. Of the reasons you mentioned, which is the most important to you?

  • it provides an opportunity to interact directly with the people who grow my food.

3. What are your strategies for eating locally? (You could mention things such as where you locate your food, how you cook, etc.)

  • Brighton Farmer’s Market (many more farm and small-scale processor friends there)
  • Hosting meat deliveries in my driveway
  • A large freezer in my basement

4. What are the greatest obstacles to you in trying to eat locally?

  • Temptation in the grocery store (I get better at resisting all the time but local bananas don’t happen)
  • Short regional growing season – adding more high-hoop operations in the area would help this.
  • I can’t seem to work up any enthusiasm for canning.

5. Have you ever made a personal connection (met someone new, talked with someone new) as a result of trying to eat locally? If so, was that meaningful for you?

  •  Over 15 years in CSA, 40-50 like-minded acquaintances and a handful (possibly more than that) of true forever friends.
  • Always meeting new farmers (actually did survey work for NOFA-NY a few summers ago – fantastic!) – this connects me with both the people and the land .

If you’d like to add or comment on anything else with regard to local eating, please do so here:

So much to say, so little time.

Thank you very much for your participation!

I would be interested in seeing results of the survey when you are finished.

Best regards, Kathryn


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     I have been substitute teaching a lot – three different schools, many different subjects, a wide range of grades – 5/5 days last week.  It’s been interesting.  

     I have been in class rooms where there have been no plans and nothing to work with.  I have been been in others that were super-organized with rosters, seating charts, lesson plans including contingency plans if the students finish early.    One teacher requested that I do a great deal of collating and finished her instructions with “Please wash the windows before you leave” – seriously, I could find no indication that this was a joke.  I have taught in schools where I am not treated as a professional and in schools where I have been thanked and treated well.   I never know what will happen when the phone rings in the morning.   I’m learning to juggle and to dance while I’m doing it with a smile.

      The experience has been valuable for gaining perspective.   I like middle school students more than I expected.   I prefer more advanced Chemistry and science BUT middle school kids aren’t afraid to laugh at a joke or be amazed about something cool.  They do have more energy than they need for school – sometimes that leaks out in unacceptable ways – but they aren’t locked into a personality or affect.   If middle-school students don’t understand a teacher’s joke, they will work on it for a bit and laugh later;  high school students just decide that you’re obtuse in some way and they don’t care or aren’t interested enough to puzzle it out.   Interesting change in my perspective.   I have no control over what level I will end up teaching but I am more open to either level.

      I also gain perspective when teaching other subjects.    I am certified to teach Chemistry but was recently teaching Biology in which the textbook (and the students) asserted that there were four classes of “Organic Compounds” – proteins, nucleic acids, fats & lipids, or carbohydrates.   Uh – no;   in Chemistry, even on the NYS Regents Chemistry Reference Table, there are many more classes of organic compounds including aldehydes, ketones, ethers, carboxylic acids, phenolic compounds, etc.   I texted a friend who teaches Biology and he made the same assertion.   Another obstacle to my dream of an interdisciplinary curriculum.

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Nobel Controversy

Photocredit - niznoz from flickr.com (used with permission)

     No, I’m not writing about the recent controversy and subsequent media fanfare about the Nobel Peace Prize although I was pleased with the White House response that the President was “surprised and humbled” by the award – perfect pitch as usual.  I’m more interested in the discussion about this year’s Chemistry prize.  

     There was a bit of a skirmish – noted here on The Skeptical Chymist blog –  over whether the work rewarded was more Biology than Chemistry.  This year, three scientists are cited for using x-ray crystallography to prove the structure of ribosomes, an essential cell component where proteins are produced based on information encoded in DNA.     There is no prize for Biology;  Nobel Prizes are awarded for Physics, Chemistry, Economics, Literature, Medicine, and Peace.   In my mind, atomic structure is all Chemistry – even for really big molecules essential to biological functions.    My senior research project for my Chemistry degree involved bonding of oxygen and carbon monoxide at various stages of hemoglobin saturation;  another big molecule that is important in biology.

     I’m intrigued by changes in how scientific disciplines are distinguished.  In the 18th and 19th centuries, scientists were scientists and explored a broad range of natural phenomenon.  The 20th century saw the disciplines divided into specific fields – physics, chemistry, biology, geology, etc.;  school departments and teaching were similarly split and scientists dug deeper into each of those areas.   In the 21st century, the sciences are converging to reflect the reality that it’s one system.    

     When I teach Chemistry, I frequently use examples from Biology and Earth Science.     How else to make something as abstract as Chemistry real and relevant to students?   The sciences are interrelated and college catalogs now advertise majors such as biomedical engineering, biochemistry, geochemistry, biophysics, etc.    How long will it take until high school schools recognize this and change the curriculum to allow students to use the sciences together to solve problems in classes that are interdisciplinary?

      Now about the fact that only four women have won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry…

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Professional Development


     Today was my very first, post-certification professional development day.   It got me thinking about and redesigning my plans for teaching Chemistry – more about this in my previous post about the book.   I also got to spend the day with a teacher I met during my second student teaching placement who was the mentor teacher of Kristin.

     Of course, not having a job, I had to pay for it out of my own funds but this was offset by the door prize I won.  Well actually the teacher I was with won it but I traded her the frog model that I won and we were both happier.   I ended up with a Hardness testing kit complete with minerals.    Most people who know me know that I’m a total Earth Science fanatic (see posts here and here) but will probably never be able to teach it because I don’t have college credit – just life experience.    The minerals however will come in handy for teaching Chemistry.

     This post was a bit of a ramble but I am totally excited about this mineral collection!

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     This weekend, I am reading this book in preparation for a conference that I will attend on Tuesday.  It’s not a new book – it was written more than 10 years ago –  but to me it is fascinating.   It chronicles a study in which videotapes from classrooms in the United States, Germany, and Japan were studied to determine how teaching was different in these countries.  The impetus for the study was the poor performance of students from the US on an international assessment of math and science – the TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study).

     The focus of the book is on math teaching and learning.   Apparently, both Japanese and German instruction is at a higher level than that in the US.   The Japanese instruction also includes a higher level of student problem solving including having students develop their own problems, work through their confusion, and a teacher role as mediator between the students and mathematics rather than controlling focus or imparting knowledge in the way seen in US and German classrooms, respectively.

     The fun for me is in thinking about applying the knowledge gained from this study to teaching Chemistry.  It isn’t so easy to provide chemicals to students and just say “Go ahead.  Investigate.   Make Mistakes.   It’s OK.”    Yikes!   However, my big takeaway is that the students need to get frustrated and try to figure things out for themselves.  There are lots of ways to do this that aren’t dangerous.   One concept that really stays with me is that Japanese teachers have a higher tolerance for student frustration and allow the students to work things out on their own, whereas teachers in the US tend to see confusion and frustration as evidence of bad teaching on their part and step in too quickly.

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