Climate Action
For Educators

Supporting Climate and Food Justice

Posted by Jen Cirillo
Director of Professional Learning

Workshop recording and resources

Climate justice and food justice intersect in so many arenas. Food is tied to energy, the economy, land, water, waste, and so many global topics. Climate is inherently interdisciplinary, affecting every aspect of life around the world. How can we educators support youth who are grappling with these massive issues?

We know that to build youth voice and encourage action for a more just, sustainable, flourishing future, students need to understand not just the impacts of climate change or food insecurity, but to see possible solutions. Last month, SubjectToClimate, Food Connects, and the Shelburne Farms Institute for Sustainable Schools hosted a workshop to explore the intersection of climate and food, showcase youth leaders’ voices, and introduce resources for K-12 educators.

This workshop was presented as part of the 2022–23 Northeast Farm to School Institute, and is the sixth module in the Vermont Farm to School Network’s series. You can watch the full recording of the webinar below, or read on for key ideas from our conversation.

Framing climate change as a human rights issue

Climate justice “recognizes the disproportionate impacts of climate change on low-income communities and communities of color around the world, the people and places least responsible for the problem.” It encompasses many ideas, but critically, it frames climate change as a human rights issue. Climate justice draws links between climate change, extractive economies, and workforce exploitation, and points to inclusion, community power, and collective decision-making as solutions. 

We can see sustainability as a byproduct of justice – justice for human and non-human worlds.

“Food is everything”

As my co-presenter Sadie Hunter, Farm to School Program Manager at Food Connects, explains, food is a thread that connects us all. Food connects to culture, health, economics, science, and policy. Food justice means changing those systems; it looks like communities exercising their right to grow, sell, and eat healthy food – food that is fresh, nutritious, affordable, culturally-appropriate, and grown locally with care for the well-being of the land, workers, and animals. The food itself is only part of a larger system; food justice involves access to jobs, affordable housing, and investing in the food and farm economy.

Investing in Farm to School education, says Sadie, is an important way of investing in food justice. Farm to School education gives students the context to understand their own place in the food system, connecting kids to where their food comes from, what food does for their bodies, and making sure they know what to do with their food waste.

Linking food and climate

When you consider climate and food insecurity together, or climate and agriculture together, a ripple effect is revealed: Climate change drives how folks are able to access food. Climate change has impacts on farming and agricultural workers. It can influence whether or not a person can connect to how their community traditionally raised food. And when seasonality shifts – if plants bloom earlier, or if predators emerge later – due to climate change, that too has a huge influence on our food systems.

Shares presenter Halima Houandje, a student activist from Dr. Ronald E. McNair Academic High School in New Jersey: “I recognize how important these issues are, as a child of parents who were raised in third world countries…The people who will be most affected by food injustice will also likely be the people most affected by climate change.”

Student action

Research indicates that knowledge alone isn’t necessarily an indicator of student action; students need to be introduced to climate justice and food justice as part of the “social norm” of their school – not just through their classes, but also through clubs and communication within the school. Presenting solutions and supporting our youth so that students feel agency to take action in their community are both key to a flourishing future.

Jeswin Antony, a student at Harwood Union High School in Vermont and member of the school’s farm to school club, shared his view: “Food and climate justice really has a crossroads…They are big problems but we can start small, by starting in our communities. Those small steps can really add up – that’s what I’ve seen here through all my experiences.”

To get started, explore SubjectToClimate for free climate and food justice lessons and resources.

Jen Cirillo is the Director of Professional Learning of the Shelburne Farms Institute for Sustainable Schools.  This workshop was presented as part of the 2022–23 Northeast Farm to School Institute.

Find more webinars on topics including food justice via the Vermont Farm to School Network.

See upcoming workshops and programs on our calendar.

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