Japanese students learn about Vt. food and environment

ADDISON COUNTY — A group of high school students from Japan that recently visited Vermont learned not just about the cultural differences between their home country and the Green Mountain State, but also got some first-hand experience and education on how Vermonters are trying to integrate more local foods into their lives.
It was all under the Green Across the Pacific Environmental Leadership Exchange program, an international program, run by Shoreham resident Peter Lynch, which seeks to improve cultural and environmental awareness and cooperation.
The 17 students and other education and government officials used Bristol and Mount Abraham Union High School as a home base during the March 16-24 visit, while visiting many sites around Northern Vermont and talking with a wide variety of local people.
While the exchange offered the typical opportunities to improve communication among different countries and cultural settings, it also encouraged participants from Japan and Vermont to think about meaningful solutions to environmental challenges, especially when they cross international, regional and local boundaries. Specifically, this year’s exchange was an exploration of food and food systems in Vermont and a comparison with that in Tottori, Japan, the home region of this group.
Lynch explained that topic arose in part from the fact that Mount Abe teacher Gabriel Hamilton was teaching a course on biology through food that could offer a starting point for discussion and discovery, but also food and environment was taking a leading role in some legislation under discussion at the Vermont Statehouse this spring.
“This is timely with the Working Landscapes (Bill) going through the Legislature now,” Lynch said.
Among the many activities that the Japanese students — and in some cases also their Mount Abe student hosts and families — took part in trips to a maple sugaring operation, Ben & Jerry’s factory and the Statehouse
A stop at Middlebury College introduced the visitors to the college’s effort to integrate sustainability throughout the institution. Middlebury Natural Food Cooperative showed the Japanese a successful market dedicated to providing customers with environmentally and socially responsibly produced food products
There also were potluck dinners that gave a chance to informally learn about each culture’s food while also just getting to know each other.
Japanese high school student Reiko Tamagawa, 17, said the airplane flight from Japan was “brutal” but she was glad to get a chance to practice speaking English.
She was tickled that her host family prepared an Asian chicken and rice dish that she said was the best thing she’s tasted here; though she was dying to have some Japanese curry.
For her potluck dish she was planning to make pizza.
She was impressed by the large number of trees in the Green Mountain State, and was thrown a little not just by the fact that people drive on the opposite side of the road than in Japan, but also the roads aren’t strait.
“It’s fun to drive on the wavy country roads,” she said.
Green Across the Pacific hosts exchanges every year. For more information visit gatp.org.

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