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Could it be that our children prefer cupcakes to cantaloupes because they’ve never seen how food grows?
It sounds deceptively simple, and granted — there are other reasons kids reach for salty, crunchy snacks.
But there is good reason to believe that when children, or anyone for that matter, have a stronger connection to their food source they’re more likely to give fresh fruits and vegetables a try.
That’s the intent of Berkeley’s groundbreaking Edible Schoolyard, launched 20 years ago as a model of “edible education” for urban public school students. Located on the grounds of Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School, the one-acre garden and adjoining kitchen blends academics with hands-on gardening experience for students in grades six to eight. It’s funded by the Edible Schoolyard Project, a nonprofit originally established by Chez Panisse restaurateur Alice Waters to sustain a program that might empower urban youth and encourage a new generation to appreciate fresh, local food from sustainable sources.
A visit to the Edible Schoolyard
Each student spends time in the garden as part of their math and science curriculum, and they then rotate through a kitchen segment incorporating humanities and social science lessons. From basic cooking skills and familiarity with a variety of fruits and vegetables in sixth grade, to chemical reactions and the role of biological leaveners by eighth — this is not your mother’s Home Economics class.
A recent stroll through the garden at the end of summer revealed a riotous collaboration of wildflowers intent on dressing up the fading vegetable plants. Indeed, there are flowers everywhere — attracting birds, bees and butterflies throughout the profusion of fruit trees, vines, berries and herbs.
Besides being essential for pollination, the flowers also serve an aesthetic purpose, says garden manager Geoff Palla, as Waters believes that no dining table is complete without flowers.
“Part of the kitchen class is setting the table, and part of setting the table is the centerpiece,” he says.
Students’ introduction to the garden at the beginning of sixth grade strengthens their teamwork and collaboration as they’re introduced to the four basic skills of gardening: propagation (transplanting), cultivation, harvesting and composting. Each year those basic skills are built upon as the seventh and eighth graders begin to help younger students and then delve into more advanced biology in eighth grade.
Certainly those lessons could be taught inside the classroom using models and drawings, but as Palla says, “but why would you if you have a garden at your disposal? There’s so much more energy out here.”
Spreading the word
Such an innovative program should be shared, so each summer the Edible Schoolyard Academy hosts a limited number of educators who are ready to implement or expand their school garden programs. The academy reveals the core principles and methods for weaving academics into the kitchen and garden activities.
Teachers and administrators have come from around the world for the five-day academy held right on the Berkeley campus. The course could be held elsewhere, Pallas says, but experiencing the fully developed program in the original site’s mature garden is inspirational.
Applications for the approximately 90 spaces available will open up during winter. Learn more about the agenda and how to apply at http://edibleschoolyard.org/academy-faq.