Farm to Fork Project

Students apply what they have learned in the classroom to their own dinner plates by creating a meal based on principles of health and sustainability that are attentive to personal, local, and global considerations.

Goals: Students will

  • more deeply understand what course concepts of health and sustainability look like in the real world through creating a meal based on those principles
  • demonstrate knowledge of course concepts by analyzing the nutritional value and environmental impact of their meal in a write-up
  • gain skills that may lead them to cook healthier and more eco-conscious meals for themselves after the course has ended

Class: ENVR E-129: From Farm to Fork: Why What You Eat Matters

Introduction and Background: This course examines how modern food production and distribution affects health, the environment, and the planet. This assignment is the final activity of the course, when students bring together all of the concepts they have learned about nutrition and sustainability to create a meal in their own kitchen that reflects these principles, farm to fork. As students from all over the world took this course online, the instructor modified this assignment from an in-person group assignment, where students planned, shopped, cooked, and ate together as a team, to an individual activity that students completed on their own and joined their classmates online to discuss their learnings over a “virtual meal.”

Procedure:

Set-up

  • Students were provided with a handout of written instructions (attached).
  • The instructor divided students intro groups of about 6 students, with whom they would discuss the meals they each created.

Assignment

  • Students were assigned to create a meal based on principles of nutrition and sustainability that they learned about in the class. They could either modify a favorite meal or create something new.
  • Students were supposed to consider the nutrient content of the meal as well as the sources of the ingredients. As Dr. Newby writes, “Remember, thinking about the implications of the meal and finding suitable sources and ingredients is as important as creating or modifying a recipe that promotes individual health; these are the criteria on which the assignment will be graded.”
  • The meal should be complex enough to be “adequate for a dinner meal”. Additionally, students are told “there is no reason to cook something overly elaborate: this should be a meal that you would actually make in your life.” Hypothetically, this assignment would give students usable knowledge of a healthy and sustainable meal they could cook for themselves (and/or their family).
  • Students could ask the instructors or teaching team if they weren’t sure whether their meal met the assignment guidelines.
  • Students shop for ingredients and prepare the meal in their own kitchen.

Virtual Group Meal

  • Students were instructed to share a virtual meal together where they discuss their projects—ideally, while enjoying their meal—over online collaborative software of their choice (e.g. Skype, Google Hangouts).
  • During the meal, each student presents their dish in no more than 10 minutes.
  • Finally, students reflect on the questions in the assigned written report (below) in open discussion.

Follow-up

Students write an individual project report not to exceed 4 single-spaced pages, which contribute to 25% of the final grade for undergraduate/non-degree students and 20% for graduate students. They address:

  • What meal they prepared, why they chose to make it, and whether they are satisfied with the results.
  • The impacts of their meal on the systems involved across the food production chain, based on what students have learned in the course about the nutritional ecology model and other environmental issues.
  • How they dealt with any conflicting goals when selecting ingredients (e.g., nutritional versus environmental impacts).
  • The nutrition facts and ingredients of their dish.
  • How the dish compares to dietary guidelines.
  • What they learned from the virtual meal with their classmates.

To complete this assignment, students needed to create a nutrition label providing nutrient content and ingredients using resources found online and analyze the fuel, water, and carbon footprint based on guidelines discussed in class.

Students also were encouraged to create an optional 4 minute video showcasing their meal and key takeaways to publish on the class website, though this did not contribute to their grade. Many students did opt to create a video.  

Comments from the Instructor:

Tips on logistics: “This assignment works wonderfully as a full group assignment (when the entire assignment is conducted within a group), ideally with students of diverse backgrounds to maximize learning potential. However, if logistical constraints prevent doing an in-person cooking activity (as it did when this class was offered online), you can still integrate the valuable group component and shared experience but leave the individual steps (shopping, cooking, and final report preparation) to each student. Each of these methods has worked with success when I've used this assignment.”

Why this activity is important: “It is well-appreciated in public health that getting individuals to make behavioral changes simply because they are "good for you" or “good for the environment" is difficult: unfortunately, knowledge alone simply isn't enough. Facts and information—theoretical knowledge—about nutrition and sustainability are more likely to create meaningful behavior change when students are involved in a real-life, everyday activity that applies the concepts to their lives. In Benjamin Franklin's words, ‘“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I may remember. Involve me and I learn.’ ”

Submitted by P.K. Newby, ScD, MPH, MS, Graduate Program in Sustainability and Environmental Management, Environmental Studies (Harvard Extension School) 

Recipient of the Spring 2015 ABLConnect Teaching Innovator Prize

newby_instructions_healthymealprepindividual_hext_2014.pdf106 KB