Maddie Krasno is the San Francisco Bay Area Humane Educator for Farm Sanctuary and a graduate student in IHE’s M.A. program. We spoke with her about her work at Farm Sanctuary and the free environmental education curriculum she helped develop for classroom teachers.

IHE: You’ve produced an environmental education curriculum for teachers. Can you tell us why you created it and a bit about it? 

Maddie: Young people feel a sense of urgency when they learn about the current state of the environment. The issue of global climate change is dire. Individuals have the power to make choices that lessen their impact, but many are unaware of which individual choices make the biggest difference. Understanding the impact of our food choices is critical to mitigating the environmental destruction taking place.

Farm Sanctuary’s Sustainable Future curriculum introduces students to our food system, particularly how animal agriculture and factory farming practices affect the environment. It also invites students to explore the impact their food choices have on the environment and take tangible steps to make a difference. The rate at which humans consume animals is unsustainable and detrimental to the planet. Young people have a right to be informed about these issues so that they may work toward a more sustainable future for all.

Farm Sanctuary’s Sustainable Future curriculum is comprised of four environmentally-focused lessons that align with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and follow the 5E Model of learning, which encourages students to learn through engagement and exploration. Teachers can feel confident knowing that these lessons align with standards and cover material that students will find compelling, relevant, and empowering. There is a growing movement surrounding the teaching of environmental literacy, yet most education concerning our environment doesn’t address the detrimental effects that animal agriculture and factory farming have on our planet. Farm Sanctuary’s Sustainable Future curriculum brings issues of our food system to the forefront of people’s minds, arming them with recent current scientific findings drawn from reputable organizations including FAO, CDC, NASA, and NRDC.

Farm Sanctuary’s Sustainable Future curriculum is free and can be downloaded directly from Farm Sanctuary’s website.

IHE: How is it being received so far?

Maddie: Teacher and student feedback has been very positive. Teachers remark that students are engaged in the lessons and attentive to the material. They’ve also requested additional lessons, hoping to expand further upon these topics with their students.

At the conclusion of each lesson, students are asked to offer an anonymous response to what they’ve learned. Students often reflect on the impact that raising animals for food has on the increase in greenhouse gas emissions in our atmosphere, thereby contributing to global climate change.

They have remarked that they were inspired when they learned that millennials and younger generations are leading the demand for change in our food system by eating and requesting more plant-based foods in restaurants, grocery stores, and in their own homes. 

IHE: What is the impact on dietary and lifestyle choices from such curricula? 

Maddie: Dr. Jenny Jay, a researcher and professor of civil and environmental engineering at UCLA, served as the expert scientific advisor on Farm Sanctuary’s Sustainable Future curriculum.

Her research has shown that when people know more about the impacts of their food on the environment, they tend to voluntarily make more sustainable choices and eat more of a plant-based diet. She published a study on the critical role that environmental education can play in the fight against climate change, calculating the carbon footprint of the diets of college freshman before and after taking two different classes. Students in one of the courses learned about the environmental impacts of the food system, while students in the other were the control group. While the two groups had the same dietary carbon footprints at the start of the study, by the end of the study, the students in the food and environment class were eating less beef (by about one serving per week) and more fruits and vegetables. She points out that if everyone in the U.S. made this type of change, the benefit would amount to about a third of what our country would need to reach targets set forth in the Copenhagen Agreement.

IHE: What do you find most fulfilling about being a Farm Sanctuary humane educator?

Maddie: I feel very fortunate to be in a position where I am educating young people about some of the most pressing global issues we face, both as a guest presenter in classrooms and through the creation of classroom curricula that teachers can implement themselves. I believe that education is the key to lasting, positive change, and that we cannot fix our broken food system without understanding how all of the pieces connect. People often look at issues in isolation. As a humane educator, I find it fulfilling when students verbalize their understanding of how our food system not only causes animal suffering but also human suffering and harm to our planet. As a Farm Sanctuary humane educator, I get to see firsthand the impact that newfound knowledge has on students. At the end of a classroom presentation, one high school student who had looked rather uneasy at the start of my presentation, pulled me aside and said, “You changed my perspective.” He then asked me how he could get involved with a farm animal sanctuary. That is what I find the most fulfilling—the power of education to change someone’s perspective and inspire positive change. 

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