Liz Snyder and the Life-Changing Day

Live Aloha 2010

Know any “Moms of the Revolution”? Well, you do now: Liz Snyder, who was awarded that title by Kiwi Magazine because of her Full Circle Farm project, which is organic, sustainable, and educational. Also very educational is Collective Roots, a nonprofit organization that teaches kids in East Palo Alto, California, to grow food, and, more importantly, to know food. Up until recently, Snyder was its development manager.

The purpose of these projects is to get not only kids, but whole communities fascinated with the idea of a hands-on relationship with their own food supply. It’s about public health, it’s about healing the environment, it’s about families, and most of all it’s about making a state of personal health more interesting and enjoyable than a life of eating disorders and physical debility. The proponents of organic gardening are quite convincing about its rewards.

Having studied nutritional anthropology and equipped with certification as a bio-intensive gardener, Snyder is also a holistic family food coach. She helps women deal with their eating issues, so they can break the inter-generational chain of transmission, and avoid bringing up their children with harmful or weird food relationships. It all stems from a simple, long-established philosophy of experiential education, in which the garden is a living laboratory:

Garden Based Learning (GBL) can be defined simply as an instructional strategy that utilizes a garden as a teaching tool… Active Plant-Based Learning refers to activities, programming, and curricula that use plants as a foundation for integrating learning in and across disciplines through active, real-world experiences that also have personal meaning for children and youth.

GBL includes formal courses in botany and biology, after-school gardening and horticulture programs, education in nutrition and the environment, science fairs, field trips to botanical gardens, the policing of invasive plant species, and whatever else these extremely inventive people can think of. Next, Collective Roots wants to set up a summer camp. Its website goes into detail about activities in specific locations. For little kids, the collective set up garden-based scavenger hunts and relay races, and teach them to make fruit smoothies.

At the East Palo Alto Charter School, 264 participants are in kindergarten through 5th grade:

Each day, students are engaged in a science lesson and then move to the outdoor classroom to participate in hands-on organic gardening and other activities connected to the lesson, such as bird watching, insect exploration, planting, and mulching.

At the local middle school, 6th- through 8th-graders learn more advanced organic farming lessons and go on field trips that literally are field trips, because they’re out harvesting strawberries or raspberries. Sometimes they collect eggs from underneath actual chickens, or get up close and personal with a baby goat. The older kids also explore such abstractions as food justice.

Liz Snyder wrote a lovely memoir of how her 3rd-grade self first had experienced awareness of where food came from. A favorite teacher lived on a farm, and brought her students there for a day to visit the seedlings and bees, and eat fresh-picked corn with home-churned butter. Snyder says,

The entire day is burned in my memory. It, this one day, changed me irrevocably… And it wasn’t just an amazing sensory experience. It was a mind-shift, a new way for me to look at the world.

Garden-based learning results in smarted and better-nourished kids, less anxious parents, and beautified school grounds. It’s also a shield against childhood obesity. Kids can get hooked on healthful foods just like they can become hooked on junk food. It’s up to the supporters of healthful food to get there first.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “What is Garden Based Learning?,” Collective Roots
Source: “Garden Based Learning,” Collective Roots
Source: “On Mrs. Bizarri’s Farm,” I Eat Real
Image by kcmckell, used under its Creative Commons license.

7 Responses

  1. Thanks very much for the coverage, but I must strongly object to “childhood obesity” as a paradigm for my work. I have spent many years trying to convince nutritionists and other health professionals that it is not about bodies, it is about people. Children – no matter what their size – need an healthy emotional framework around food. ALL kids benefit from garden-based learning and ALL kids can suffer a lifetime of disordered eating. Depression, disordered eating, ill health, and self-hate: all can be caused by an unhealthy relationship with food, and not all are written on the body. I was a skinny teenager who hated herself and punished herself with food and exercise – I’m sure many others can relate. And for those who did struggle with weight, the constant barrage of “not good enough” and “diseased and sick” messages do NOT help.

    I highly recommend the work of Linda Bacon, PhD: She has spent many years researching the clinical implications of “obesity” and has found the shocking truth that it is not fatness that determines health outcomes. When it comes to the emotional sensitivity of kids (especially teens) it is not just bad science to make it “about the weight” – it is irresponsible and damaging!

    1. Thank you very much for your comment, Ms. Snyder. Saying it’s not about fatness or bodies, that it’s about health, is along the same lines as the debate about being “fat and fit.” With all due respect to Dr. Bacon, excessive body fat is definitely a medical problem in children, and is associated with type 2 diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome, high blood pressure, psuedotumor cerebri, bowing of leg bones, fatty liver disease, cardiovascular risk factors, and joint wear problems. Furthermore, aside from substantial self-esteem effects, obese kids also are not able to move as they would like, not able to fit in amusement park rides, and not able to fit in stylish clothing. The kids, who post on the site, agonize openly about these effects every day. I wholeheartedly agree that healthy nutrition and a healthy relationship with food is of paramount importance in children, but obesity is a separate issue from nutrition and appears to result from an addictive dependence on unhealthy food. And, I absolutely agree that we must be very diligent to de-stigmatize obesity. It is like any health problem – an injured arm or a skin malady – it is treatable and preventable. – RP

      1. There is nothing in those kids’ fat cells that causes them to agonize over their weight. In fact, I would bet you would find the same body-angst in normal weight girls on the heavier side of the ‘normal’ BMI range. It is social pressure and demonization of fat that causes the agony. Dr. Bacon has documented in great detail how the conditions you list are correlated with diet first, and body fat second. There are many people on the thin end of the spectrum suffering ill effects from our industrial food system. I have posted a longer reply on my website:

    2. Thanks for profiling the great work of Liz Snyder and Collective Roots.

      But I must chime in to strongly support Liz in her framing of her work (and garden based education efforts more broadly) to support healthier emotional relationships with food. It’s clear to me that our culture has lost its connection to how food is grown and produced. Instead, we buy overly packaged foods in grocery stores and have a hard time telling where they came from or how they were produced. And when we do scrutinize our food or eating, it’s often connected to how it will affect our jean size.

      I don’t deny that the prevalence of disordered eating has increased, but that’s besides the point. The real beauty of garden-based education, as Liz expresses, is that it helps us establish a stronger and more positive connection with our food through hands-on sensory experiences.

      1. And thank you for writing in to comment!
        Absolute agreement that garden-based education helps to establish a more positive connection with food. And although that might not be the most important thing about it, the kids who communicate with Weigh2Rock, the kids that Dr. Pretlow wants to help, mostly have negative connections with food. Or very counter-productive kinds of positive connections.
        Gardens promote not only a healthy relationship with food, but a positive attitude in general. Does eating healthy foods preclude eating unhealthy, addictive foods? Maybe not in every instance. But it sure can’t hurt. If one of the byproducts of garden-based education is that it can help to prevent obesity or help recover from obesity, it’s something to be happy about.

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OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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