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High schoolers learn healthy food options at GardenShare summit

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POTSDAM — High school students flocked to SUNY Potsdam on Thursday to learn about what they eat and where it comes from.

GardenShare, a Canton-based organization that promotes healthy, local food, held its first youth summit in 2011, pulling in almost 250 students from 30 school districts.

Its success prompted GardenShare to hold the event again. The plan is to make it a biennial tradition.

This time the summit had fewer attendees but a more definite goal: send students back with a concrete plan to improve their communities.

Teams from 20 school districts attended, comprising a total of about 180 students and teachers.

They gathered in groups to learn the benefits of kitchen gardens, the tactics used by food advertisers and the options available for healthy school lunches.

Aviva M. Gold, executive director of GardenShare, said the goal is to teach teens about healthy, local food at a time in their lives when they start to be passionate about and aware of the issues that affect them.

“I think it’s abundantly clear to everyone right now that something is wrong with our food system,” she said.

After learning more about the food they eat, students gathered with their teachers to craft a specific plan on how to apply these lessons to their home districts. Whether starting a school garden or a club to continue the discussion, students were urged to take action.

“The idea is to find solutions that are good for the community and for ourselves and our environment,” Ms. Gold said.

Brooke R.A. Lalonde, 17, of Canton said she wants to start an education program in which she and her fellow high school students will teach children in Canton Elementary School about healthy eating.

“It will definitely help us learn about food education, because we’ll learn by teaching it,” she said.

Students gathered around tables and pitched their ideas. Some suggested a “hunger banquet,” a fundraising dinner where one person might be served a steak dinner while another is served a bowl of rice based on a lottery draw, to raise awareness about hunger.

Terry I. Doe, a Liberty Partnership official who accompanied students from Massena High School, said it is important for students to learn about where their food comes from and how hunger affects people in the north country.

“It teaches them about food issues other than what’s healthy and what’s not,” she said.

Awareness is the most important part, Ms. Gold said.

“When they make a purchase, they make a decision, to support their local economy, or healthy food, or accessible food,” she said.

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