Eleven-year-old Birke Baehr recently was the youngest of a group of mostly teens who presented their “big” ideas at Asheville’s inaugural TEDxNextGenerationAsheville event.
Birke’s talk was titled, “What’s Wrong with Our Food ‘System’? And How We Can Make a Difference.”
I met Birke beforehand, and because I often write about kids and food and local food production, we had a lot to talk about. Birke has abundant knowledge and lots of passion about these subjects. So, for those of you who didn’t get to hear Birke in person, here’s most of his inspirational talk (I had to cut some of the speech, but the message remains powerful).
“I am really amazed at how easily kids are led to believe all of the advertising and marketing on TV, at public schools and pretty much everywhere else you look. It seems to me like corporations are always trying to get kids to get their parents to buy stuff that really isn’t good for them or the planet.
I must admit I used to be one of them.
I also used to think that all of our food came from these happy little farms where pigs rolled in the mud and cows grazed on grass all day.
I discovered this is not true.
I began to look into this stuff on the Internet, in books, in documentary films and in my travels with my family.
I discovered the dark side of the industrial food system.
Like where it really comes from and how it’s grown, developed, packaged, marketed and eventually ends up in our refrigerators and on our dinner tables.
First, there are the genetically engineered seeds and organisms. That’s when seeds are manipulated in a laboratory to do something not intended by nature, like putting the DNA from a fish into the DNA of a tomato.
I like fish and tomatoes, but this is creepy!
These seeds are planted and then grow. The food they produce has been proven to cause cancer and other problems in lab animals. People have been eating food produced this way since the 1990s and MOST folks don’t even know they exist!
Did you know rats fed genetically engineered corn developed signs of liver and kidney toxicity? Yet almost all the corn we eat has been altered genetically in some way. And let me tell you, corn is in everything!
They use chemical fertilizers made from petroleum that they put in the dirt to make the plants grow. They do this because they have stripped the soil of nutrients from growing the same crop over and over.
Next, fruits and vegetables are sprayed with more harmful chemicals like pesticides and herbicides to kill weeds and bugs. When it rains, these chemicals seep into the ground or run off into our waterways.
Then they irradiate our food to make it last longer so it can travel thousands of miles from where it’s grown to the supermarkets.
So, I asked myself … how can I help? How can I change these things? This is what I found out. I discovered that there is a movement for a better way. A while back I wanted to be a NFL football player. Then I decided that I would rather be an organic farmer instead. That way I can make a greater impact on the world.
I want to share with you that we all can make a difference by making different choices.
We can buy our food directly from local farmers and our neighbors who we know in real life. Some people say that organic or local food is more expensive. But is it really?
With all these things I’ve been learning about the food “system,” it seems to me we can either pay the farmer or we can pay the hospital. I know which one I would choose.
There are farmers out there like Bill Keener at Sequatchie Cove Farms in Tennessee. Bill’s cows do eat grass, and his pigs do roll in the mud. Sometimes I go to Bill’s farm and volunteer. I get to see up close and personal where the hamburger I eat comes from. I want you to know that I believe kids will eat fresh vegetables and good food if they know more about it. In every community, there are farmers’ markets popping up. Me, my brother and sister actually like eating baked kale chips.
I try to share this with other kids everywhere I go. Not too long ago my uncle said he offered cereal to my 6-year-old cousin. He asked if he wanted Organic Toasted O’s or Frosted Flakes? My cousin told his Dad he wanted the organic cereal because Birke said he shouldn’t eat sparkly cereal.
And that, my friends, is how we can make a difference. One kid at time.
Next time you’re going to buy food, think local, choose organic, and know your farmer. And know your food!”
Thanks, Birke, for sharing your vision — one kid and one kale chip at a time.