by Laura Howard-Gayeton
Co-Founder, The Lexicon of Sustainability
Do you localize?
Many people these days say they try to “think globally and act locally.” But do you really know how to localize? The Lexicon of Sustainability is educating students and their communities how to do just that by showing and explaining what local really looks like. We have created a learning system that feeds into a growing visual dictionary, one that takes a deep dive into the words and ideas that matter most. Starting with the subject of food, we have created hundreds of compelling information artworks that illustrate sustainable agricultural methods and innovative ideas for rebuilding local food systems. This lexicon lives online at www.lexiconoffood.com. But perhaps most importantly, our grass roots community of students, NGOs and volunteer curators share these artworks at “pop-up art shows” in their hometowns, because we believe that words and conversation are the building blocks for new ideas.
Project Localize is a curriculum that asks students to localize. It’s a Project Based Learning program that shows teachers and students how to identify and promote sustainable economic, cultural and social progress in their own communities. It builds a bridge between the community and the school, allowing students to become ambassadors to a wider audience for all of the sustainable solutions happening in their local community. It has all the elements of BIE’s model for Gold Standard PBL.
Here’s how the project works. Students learn about sustainable food systems and are challenged to seek out and find local heroes and tell their stories through a visual narrative we call “information artwork.” The terms and themes highlighted in these stylistically creative artworks are then put on display via a pop up art show for the community at large. Students reach out to local business and civic leadership to attend the show while they act as docents to explain their ideas and how they can be understood, discussed, and ultimately supported by the public.
For example, in our 2012 pilot project teacher Mike Todd and his 11th grade environmental science class in Ames, Iowa mapped their local food system, interviewed producers, farmers, processors, and key stakeholders at the local level, then created information artworks illustrating what sustainability looks like in Iowa. The students and their teacher were invited to Washington D.C. by Jared Huffman, the California congressman whose district is home to the Lexicon of Sustainability. The students were met by Congressional leaders from eight farming states, USDA staff, as well as a variety of NGOs working in the food policy arena to discuss the relevancy of sustainable farming as it exists in the heart of the farm belt during the hotly debated months leading up to the 2012 Farm Bill. The response to the students’ work was so tremendous that a month-long large-format pop up show of their information artworks was installed in the Smithsonian Metro station, situated directly adjacent to the Department of Agriculture buildings.
We have been so gratified to see the impact this program has had on young people. Now, in our fourth year, the program has expanded to fifty high schools in the US and Mexico (we have an all-Spanish language version available upon request). We’ve seen Project Localize artworks appearing in town hall meetings, conferences, farmer’s markets, magazines and even at the White House in 2015. We have seen students who did not have any digital literacy create college entrance applications with compelling digital portfolios, and an explosion in eco-literacy among participating schools. And, 80% of students declared an improvement of leadership skills as a result of participation.
The Lexicon of Sustainability is looking for more exemplary teachers and schools to participate in Project Localize. Selected schools will receive Lexicon of Sustainability resources, a curriculum, a taxonomy of sustainable terms, video tutorials for creating information artworks, a regional food mapping system blueprint, a public event planner and private mentoring sessions from us via Skype.
By reaching students from a variety of agriculturally diverse communities — urban and rural— together we can spread these positive concepts across America, creating a new generation of sustainability literate citizens who will become our future leaders.