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Pilot Light: Collaborating with Educators to Teach Students about Food

Posted by Sandra MacMartin, Public Affairs Specialist, Midwest Regional Office with guest author Alex DeSorbo-Quinn, Executive Director, Pilot Light in Food and Nutrition Nutrition Security
Oct 19, 2022
A student enjoys a healthy snack as she works at her desk in the classroom

With a desire to create healthy relationships between American children and food, a group of chefs created Pilot Light in 2010. This program partners with Pre K–12 teachers to make food education a part of everyday classroom lessons. Through holistic food education, students learn about the cultivation and preparation of food and the connection to our culture, relationships, history, and the environment.

With support from USDA’s Farm to School Grant Program, Pilot Light integrates food education into subjects like math and reading while collaborating with the local community including food experts, farmers, and chefs. Incorporating food education into the academic setting enriches the core curriculum and further encourages students’ critical thinking in a manner both tangible and applicable to their daily lives. Over 20,000 students nationwide have engaged in Pilot Light’s food education program, which builds food knowledge and skills that inspire informed decision-making and advocacy for a sustainable, equitable, and accessible food system.

Allison Zaccardi, a high school Family and Consumer Science teacher in St. Paul, Minnesota, explored concepts of sustainable agriculture. Students chose a recipe and selected one ingredient to follow through the food system. In the process, they identified the food, researched its production, processing, packaging, transportation, and policy or regulations around its production, as well as the environmental impact of growing the food. Then, the students made their recipes and reflected on their learning.

Food Network featured a story on Pilot Light and how food makes learning fun.

Author’s note: I’ve been involved in Pilot Light for nearly eight years, and it’s been exciting to see how students respond to food education. Whether it’s trying fresh fruits or vegetables for the first time or understanding how farmers grow food, students are better prepared to be the leaders of the future when they are educated about food.