4-H Youth Help to Build Climate-Resilient Households, Communities and Ecosystems

Feb 2, 2023

4-H Youth Help to Build Climate-Resilient Households, Communities and Ecosystems

Feb 2, 2023

In response to CA SB1383, the 4-H Food Waste Busters Project provides an opportunity for youth to engage in reducing household food waste and help combat climate change.

The Issue

Household food waste is a major problem in the U.S. and the average U.S. household wastes 31.9% of the food it buys, with an estimated value of $240 billion. Food scraps, yard trimmings, and other organic waste make up half of what Californians add to the landfills. Greenhouse gases released by decomposing food and yard waste contribute to climate change. To respond to this issue, California is implementing statewide organic waste recycling and surplus food recovery. California's short-lived climate pollutant reduction strategy (SB1383) aims to reduce organic waste disposal 75% by 2025. This goal requires every Californian to take action. Household food waste is a complex and multifaceted issue and is affected by food-related practices (planning, shopping, storing, cooking, eating, and managing leftovers). Consumers' misunderstanding of food date labels is associated with more frequent food discards and effective educational communication is needed for consumers to understand their meaning. Educating consumers about strategies to reduce household food waste will support their compliance with SB 1383.

How UC Delivers

Extension can play a part in addressing household food waste reduction efforts. There is a call for giving children and young people a 'voice' and a 'hand' in redressing climate change. We chose to tackle this problem through the 4-H youth development program. The 4-H program is grounded in the belief that youth learn best by doing hands-on learning in a positive environment and are encouraged to take on proactive leadership roles. Increasing youth awareness and knowledge about the issue can engage them in food waste reduction and potentially influence a larger community. Youth in 4-H can highlight the issue through club projects, community service, public speaking opportunities, and civic engagement.

The 4-H Food Waste Busters Project's aim was to increase knowledge and understanding of the issue of food waste and its importance in the ecosystem. Through 4-H experiences, youth develop the knowledge, skills, and attitudes needed to live a sustainable lifestyle. This project helps youth better understand how making small changes can make a difference in their home, club, and community. As a result, youth can describe what food waste means; explain the benefit of reducing food waste; conduct a food waste audit at home; and encourage household members to adopt strategies to reduce food waste.

UC ANR Advisors adapted a food waste school curriculum developed by the World Wildlife Fund into age-appropriate, inquiry-based online lesson plans that fit the 4-H project format. Since many students were still engaged in online learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic this created an opportunity to focus on household-level food waste. The 4-H lesson plans provided time for team building, group agreement development, activity exploration, a capstone project, and reflection. The Advisors piloted the lesson plans with fourteen youth members through 9 weekly one-hour zoom project meetings. At the end of the pilot project, Advisors conducted a focus group with the youth to confirm that our project aims were fulfilled and to provide an opportunity for them to give feedback on the lesson plans.

The Impact

The 4-H youth were able to articulate their favorable response to the project. Youth learned about food waste's impact on the environment and strategies to reduce household waste. They shared the changes they or their family made because they participated in the project. “We realized how much food we wasted and we're trying to waste less; we are trying to have one meal of leftovers every week; we stopped cooking so much food so we don't have so many leftovers that would go to waste; we buy less food unless we really need it.” One youth shared: “This project made me realize how much food we're wasting, how much I could do about that and how much impact we're having on the world.” At the end of the project, youth completed capstone projects (poem, slide show, fact sheets) to share and educate their peers and family about food waste reduction strategies. Based on the successful pilot, we developed an online training for California 4-H project leaders. Fourteen volunteers completed project training and 78% reported that they are definitely more confident in leading this project.

 Components of the 4-H Food Waste Buster's project were intentionally created to help youth identify their household level of food waste and to develop strategies to reduce overall food waste including using left-over foods. The lessons also reinforced the importance of composting food instead of throwing it away. These experiences then contributed to conversations and learning about how household level behaviors can impact local, state, national and global levels of food waste and the environmental impacts of greenhouse gases that are produced in landfills.

The 4-H Project material was shared through the volunteer training and is in the process of ANR peer review. Once published on the ANR 4-H project sheet website, volunteers and educators from California and all land-grant universities in the U.S. will have free access to our lesson plans to deliver similar projects through their Cooperative Extension 4-H programs.

By Yu Meng
Author - Youth Family and Community Advisor
By Dorina M Espinoza
Author - Youth, Families and Communities Advisor
By Marisa Neelon
Author - Nutrition, Family & Consumer Sciences Advisor

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