June 17, 2024

Ecoliteracy Education Food Forest:A Gnome’s Perspective | Pablo van Neste | TEDxWageningenUniversity

Published May 25, 2023, 10:20 a.m. by Liam Bradley

Eco-literacy is all about understanding the interconnectedness of the natural world and our place within it. It's about learning to think like a forest gnome, seeing the world from their perspective.

Pablo Van Neste is a Forest gnome who has dedicated his life to spreading the message of eco-literacy. He's the founder of the Eco-Literacy Institute, and he's on a mission to help people understand the importance of eco-literacy and how it can help us create a more sustainable future.

In this Tedx talk, PabloVan Neste shares the story of his own journey to eco-literacy, and he offers some useful tips on how we can all start thinking like Forest gnomes.

Eco-literacy is an important tool for creating a more sustainable future. If we want to protect the planet, we need to start seeing the world from a different perspective, and that's exactly what Pablo Van Neste is trying to help us do.

You may also like to read about:


hi my name is Pablo

and as you can see I'm only part-time


I'm what you humans call a gnome a

magical forest entity

and today I'm here to share a story

about Hope and inspiration I want to

share a story I've been thinking about

for the last 167 years

I'm talking about eco-literacy and how

eco-literacy is shaping the way we do

education and how it happens in a

magical place called a food Forest

okay I realized I shared a bunch of new

words Eco literacy and food forests well

what is it let's start with food Forest

the term seems self-explanatory but a

lot of people haven't heard of it it's

basically an Edible Garden system that

mimics the way a forest grows but we put

a bunch of edible species in there

I call it a place where we have

eco-literacy education

now I promise I will explain what

equiliteracy means but first I'd like to

take you all on an adventure I'd like

you all to close your eyes

I'll wait

now you've all been in the forest before

in fact you're win-win right now

it's a nice summer day the canopy is

Shady there's a cool breeze coming


the unicorns and the fairies are

chilling right over there I mean you

didn't hear that let's look over to the

rights uh there's an apple tree and some

raspberries yeah you know those but

there's a whole bunch of plants you

don't recognize

what are those fruits above you they're

green they've got black and white little

dots on them

those are walnuts that's how walnuts

grow on trees

as you gaze down you see Rosemary bushes

and pumpkins sprawled all across the

forest floor wherever the light gets


what are those doing there

all of a sudden your nose starts to perk

up you smell something flowery something

that's attracting your nose

and then your ears awaken and you hear

birds chirping and fluttering around you

hear the leaves rustling you hear

insects zooming all around you the

forest is alive and it has so much to

tell you

okay you can open your eyes again

it's kind of hard to imagine places like

this exist but they really do we call

them food forests

and it's more than just a forest

it's a farm where we work with nature

instead of plowing the fields open year

after year

it's an educational space where we can

learn so much about our natural living


it's an educational space where I can

teach you lots of things but you can

teach me lots of things

it's a social space where all the

organisms are coming together to

contribute to make the ecosystem a bit

more stable

I'm constantly reminded when I'm in the

food Forest just how tiny I am

I look up to harvest my food and not

down I look up at a majestic tree

instead of a tiny potato

I spend a lot of my time in a food

Forest called dhruvendale Food Forest

it's a place where University students

and researchers can conduct the research

to understand the complex relationships

that happen in a food Forest

it's also a place where we try to

understand how the Food Forest relates

to the surrounding Community ourselves

it's a place where science and Magic can

hang out together and exchange


I'm often there a lot to hear all kinds

of crazy stories like for example how

any one plant can have around 64

000 connections with all the other

plants and animals

and when you start to understand those


then you start to amass sort of wisdom

and that's what it means to be


now I promised I would explain to you

what eco-literacy means so I'm going to

do that now

the renowned international advisor on

education Sir Ken Robinson once famously


one of the most urgent issues facing

humanity is fixing our broken

relationship with the Earth

on which all life depends

and that is exactly what equiliteracy


Eco literacy so we're reading something

uh reading something Eco it seems well

equiliteracy is the power that comes

from understanding how Nature's living

systems operate when you understand how

members of a natural Community are

connecting and collaborating in a

constructive way then you are starting

to understand what it means to be


and I I can hear some of you thinking

what ecology is the study of how things

are connected and biology is also the

study of how things are connected it's

true but equal literacy takes a

different direction

we not only study the way the outer

Landscapes are connected but we also

take a dive inside of ourselves and we

look at how we are connected our

thoughts our emotions

and how these thoughts and emotions are

connected to the outer world and to each



equal literacy and food forests let's

put those two together and that's why

I'm here today

the best way I can explain it is like


an equiliterate Society is where we want

to get to

and a food Forest well that's a great

way to get there

I mean what's not to like about a food

Forest we support biodiversity we clean

our air clean our soils we are trying to

eat in a different way food forests are

long-term strategies for feeding all of

us and cleaning our air

they use less fossil fuels in the long


there is one thing however that food

forests do trigger us about

and that's that they are asking us to

act and think in a different way they're

asking us to relearn what we thought we


they're challenging us and in order to

do things differently well you need a

different kind of education you need to

be taught differently

globally policy makers advisors School

teachers parents are asking for a new

kind of education one that puts the

environment at its Center

and after spending all of these years in

the food Forest well I can tell you that

I am completely convinced that this is

the exact kind of space we need to make

that happen

in 2018 the Eco literacy program was

initiated and I'm really happy to say

that it's going on strong today

once a week our school children come on

over to the Food Forest and they come

riding their bikes in hordes of 30 to 35

kids and I'm not kidding you this is

really what happens you can hear their

bike Bells from way on the other side of

the food forest and you can hear some of

them yelling yeah Eco literacy and

they're biking they're back in the

biking and they're hurrying as fast as

they can to get to the Food Forest they

drop their bikes and they go running in

hordes all together some of them split

off to go find things they saw the week

before and some of them want to go sit

down under a tree and just relax

and we let them be

we let them have fun

and then the lessons begin

the equal literacy lessons are given by

University students who want to practice

their outdoor education skills they want

to do things in a different way and they

want to try to translate complex ideas

into something the kids can understand

it can take with them for the rest of

their lives

of course the radical part about this uh

hope lesson of this whole program is

that next to you know math and history

equiliteracy is just part of the

children's curriculum it's something

they get on a weekly basis and they're

coming to us

to keep these kids stimulated and to

translate those complex ideas well we

have to come up with a lot of lessons on

a weekly basis

we try to focus mostly on physical

activities and use what's around us in

the forest to understand what it means

to be connected to each other and how

these connections work

we come up with games like real life

Stratego but instead of Army ranks we

use the animal food chain

we go harvesting for all kinds of plants

we go Scavenging for insects we make

medicines we cook food on a campfire we

have meditation sessions we're very busy

with each other

but we also look on the inside

we talk about theater and creativity we

talk about becoming different characters

we talk we talk about exploring other

ways of being and the kids see me as a

gnome and they're really happy and they

Wonder oh what does this gnome know that

my parents don't know I wonder

I have a great anecdote to share with

you about the children and plants

so the children they they are fascinated

by plants they they want to learn all

kinds of things about plants what are

edible plants what are poisonous plants

what kind of plants grow where and how

big do they get or how small do they get

did you even see that tiny plant that


there's this one plant called Sorrel

rumex acetosa for all of you plant nerds

out there you know which one I'm talking


the plant is basically uh

however I put it an annual species of

plants and you can Harvest its leaves

and the leaves taste like sour grapes or

sour candy

well you can imagine why the kids really

like that plant and they'll gobble it

all up and they'll Harvest a bunch and

take it home but there was this one boy

in particular

he was so interested in the plants he

went to our facilitators at the

University and he started asking all

kinds of questions about how to harvest

it and what's the best way to keep it in

the fridge

he took a brown paper bag took a bunch

of seeds he went home and about a year

later he comes back to me and he tells

me Pablo I've been growing the sorrow

plant now in my backyard and I have a

whole planting scheme developed I can

tell you which plants are happy which

ones get sick which ones taste better

you can imagine I was really humbled as

the Food Forest gnome to learn something

new about these plants and this kid was

teaching me everything about it

however fascinating plants are

scientific research has shown that

children have a stronger preference for

animal interactions they just like

animals they move they have eyes they're


or scaly or slimy

and what we try to do in the Eco

literacy lessons is we try to develop

lessons that are based on science but

also go beyond the science go more into

the magic and I developed a game called

the fox's Journey

and the fox's journey goes something

like this

we have the kids blindfolded in a circle

and we tell them that they're going to

become the fox

but they can't use their eyes they can

use all of their other senses but they

cannot use their eyes

I put a speaker in the middle

and I play some music it's just forest

sounds birds chirping it's nice and calm

I asked the children to put out their


and I give them blueberries

walnuts mushrooms

they can taste it if they want if they

think they know what it is they can for

sure taste it they can smell it

I give them Moss how much rich soil


the children are the foxes in the forest

and they're enjoying that

but then all of a sudden hunting dogs

come and there's a chain sound

the music gets loud and it's annoying

and all of a sudden a tree falls

a tree falls on the floor and I take a

big bucket and I throw it on the floor

and the kids are shocked and all of a

sudden the music gets louder and louder

and louder and they're rushing onto the

farmlands they're fleeing the forest and

in the farmlands it's sort of peaceful


there's a tractor and you can hear some

Farmers talking here and there

there's some cows moving

there's even some chickens clucking on

through their day

I give the children eggshells to feel

like giving potatoes and compost I give

them well they think it's earthworms but

it's just spaghetti noodles and cacao



and but they do feel like it's time to

move on it's not their spot

and they move on the music changes and

they enter Suburbia

I think a few of you know what Suburbia

sounds like it sounds something like


maybe a plane that flies over every once

in a while let's be sterile

I gave them plastic bags full of trash

and they they feel it and they rip it

open there's a bunch of plastic and

cardboard and whatever's in there

sometimes there's something organic they

kind of recognize

yeah well kind of a boring space let's

move on the music suddenly changes to

the city and it's loud and it's hustling

in the bustling and it's booming and

there's cars honking and people are

shoving them we push them a little bit

we give them pizza crust and french

fries and oh my goodness there's way too

much stress then boom

I take him right back to the forest

and I let them experience that contrast

I let them experience stress versus no


then the kids can take off their

blindfolds and we have a reflection we

talk about what they experienced some of

them really felt it and they're afraid

other ones are still contemplating but

they want to tell all their friends what

they saw and what they think they felt

they look on the floor and it's just a

mess everywhere

so maybe a quick show of hands from the

audience how many of you have children

or a younger sibling maybe a teenager


all right I'm counting about

53.597 of the audience

good well I have an anecdote to share

with all of you

the children would go home uh and they

would talk to their parents and their

friends about the food Forest known that

they saw there they would talk about the

other magical forest entities there and

then talk about harvesting in the

campfire and all these fun things they

were doing

they would ask their parents to go plant

their own food forest in their backyard

as some of the kids even asked to go on

a food Forest holiday and go visit some

other ones in the Netherlands that they

hadn't heard of before

well you can imagine the oxytocin levels

in myself were rising from Pride that

these children were understanding the


it was only then that we started to

realize the ripple effect we were having

on the whole Community because before

long we had some parents coming to us

with questions like hey my son is always

talking about this can we go visit the

Food Forest sometime and watch you do

your education

or my daughter is in another school is

there any way that school can also be

connected to your program

and it didn't just stop there the

program was helping everybody become

more equiliberate it was pulling

everyone in

School teachers of the children started

to offer our University students some

tips and tricks on how to work with the


and our University students well they

absorbed it all they they took every

little bit of data they could and they

went with it and I'm really happy to say

that some of our students even went on

to doing their own outdoor education

programs because of the program that

they were doing with us and they're

spreading the message

I'm 242 years old

and I'm in the prime of my life

there's nowhere that I would rather be

than in a food Forest

I can just see it now all over the

world's primary and secondary schools

even universities all connected to one

food forest or another and it's just

completely normal that you go out and

play there and you go out and learn

things there

and to make these food forests happen

well all you need are a few key


the first one is the most difficult one

and correct me if I'm wrong

you need children and adults who want to

go outside and play

second ingredient is you need an outdoor

educator who knows a thing or two about

plants and animals

and the final ingredient is you need a

space a location for your food Forest

it could be a public park it could be a

Farmland heck it could be even uh it

could even be somebody's front yard for

that matter if if they don't mind all

the visitors

and you you could be the farmer

you could be the teacher you could be

the child if you feel

if you even be the food floor is gnome

if you have the magic inside of you

either way whatever you are and however

you do it just remember you're part of a

beautiful community

and just imagine what the world could

look like in 20 years from now if we

came together and started making these

food forests happen and we taught equal

literacy education there



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