Museum Education Fighting Food Waste in Estonia

The Estonian Rural Museums Foundation offers various educational programmes on the past, present, and future of agriculture and food. Learning about our national rye bread, potatoes, vegetables, poultry and eggs, bees and honey are just a few of the topics. This fall a new programme on the food cycle was introduced, targeting students from middle school upwards. This new programme focusses on sustainable food consumption to decrease food waste.

At the beginning of the new Food Cycle programme a museum educator gives an overview of the carbon footprint caused by agriculture and food globally. It comes as a surprise to students that 37 per cent of the global carbon footprint is caused by the food cycle. When wasting food, we are wasting not only our money, but also land, water, energy, labour. Critical issues to be considered are also food packaging waste and transport emissions.

The participants in the programme are introduced to the relevant global background and facts on the topic using a Prezi presentation, and then get active in teams at different workstations.

  1. At the first station, students put together a dinner menu and calculate its total carbon footprint. The menu is not vegetarian, offering surprising insight into the impact of different foodstuff.
Students putting together a carbon footprint meal.
  1. At the second station, students separate food packages according to recycling rules. Students are asked tricky questions: Where would you put egg cartons? Cooking oil bottles? Used batteries? What goes into biowaste and what not?
Students separating food packaging.
  1. At the third station, students read food packages to find out what distances our food travels and marking the routes on the world map. It soon appears that the answer is thousands and thousands of miles…
Students marking delivery routes of different food products.
  1. At the fourth station, students discover what kind of national and international food labels there are, and what they mean. Can they be misleading? Do nationally awarded labels use locally produced raw materials? Is an organic product from a faraway country better for the environment than a non-organic local? (There is no “correct” answer to the last question, to be asked only for encouraging critical thinking and awareness).

Students rotate so that every team works at each station.

Another, even more practical activity in addition to these workstations takes place at the museum’s artisan kitchen: using leftovers for cooking a meal. Boiled pasta and potatoes, dry bread, fresh potato peels – everything can be turned into newly prepared meals or snacks. There are four different recipes with four different ingredients, and here we go!

Students making potato patties or small potato cakes using boiled potatoes
Students making boiled potatoes into new flour

Students work in four groups with four different leftover ingredients, and at the end of this session offer each other a taste of their cooking.

Finally, after all the information and activities, a personal question How can I improve the food cycle? is asked of participants via mentimeter.com, and you can see the results below.

Mentimeter word cloud as programme outcome

As you can see, students have many clever ideas about how to personally contribute to a sustainable food cycle and decreased carbon footprint. The programme has reached its objective!

It is hard to change the mindsets and habits of grown-ups. Therefore, educating children and youth is of utmost importance to influence values, attitudes, and behaviour regarding food. Rural museums in Estonia are doing their share using educational programmes to contribute to improved food cycle.

Author: Piret Hion Estonian Agricultural Museum

Note: All photos taken on 29 September 2022 of an international Erasmus+ student group from Poland, Spain, Germany, Portugal and Estonia participating in the programme. Photos courtesy of – Estonian Rural Museums Foundation.

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