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Teaching Sustainability with Two Buckets

Originally appears in the Summer 2010 issue

Modern agribusiness has accustomed us to buy almost any fruit or vegetable whenever we want.  Finding bananas from Ecuador in the middle of winter is as natural as finding fresh seafood in the middle of the country.  The closest that many young people get to the origins of the food on their dinner table is at the local grocery store.  Being so far removed from agricultural operations, it is hard for them to truly appreciate the complex web of processes and relationships that brings food to their table.

By contrast, a sustainable food system encourages local production and distribution, and ensures that nutritious food is affordable and accessible to all. Further, it is a humane and just system that protects farmers and other workers, consumers and communities. Our food system is complex, woven with many interrelated parts, and best understood through systems thinking.  It is much easier for students to visualize and appreciate food systems when they have opportunities to study an actual system.

At Environmental Charter High School, we knew we needed a project that would help our students develop a more realistic view of the food system while teaching important concepts of sustainability, permaculture, and systems thinking.   The project we developed is a system using two buckets to grow food. It has provided us with a practical, hands-on learning opportunity that gets our students outside.  While our container gardens are much smaller than that of a traditional school food garden, they are large enough to provide an effective context for learning.

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Sara Laimon is the coordinator of the Green Ambassador program of Environmental Charter High School in Lawndale, California.    To learn more about the program and the school, visit and