The Edible Schoolyard, Where Students Nurture Their Own Garden

December 30, 2008

by Jean Saunders, HSC School Wellness Director

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On November 5, while most of Chicago was still celebrating that we’d send the next president to Washington, I got up early and got on a plane headed for California. What started out as a long-awaited trip to visit a good friend also turned into an exciting opportunity to pay a visit to a very special school, Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle in Berkeley, California — home to the Edible Schoolyard.

No doubt many of you are familiar with the Edible Schoolyard or perhaps have even been lucky enough to have visited it for yourself. Taking a tour at Edible (as it is fondly known) has been on my short list of must-see places for a long time!

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The mission of the Edible Schoolyard at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School is to, “ create and sustain an organic garden and landscape that is wholly integrated into the school's curriculum and lunch program. It involves the students in all aspects of farming the garden – along with preparing, serving and eating the food – as a means of awakening their senses and encouraging awareness and appreciation of the transformative values of nourishment, community, and stewardship of the land.” (For more information about their program, be sure to check out Garden Lessons at the Edible Schoolyard website.)

The Edible Schoolyard is made possible in part by funding from the Chez Panisse Foundation, a philanthropic organization founded by Alice Waters, chef at Chez Panisse in Berkeley.

Prior to my visit, I’d read a lot about how the gardening and cooking programs at the Edible Schoolyard are so carefully integrated into the school's curriculum. And, through the cooking in the classroom and gardening projects I’ve been involved with, I’ve seen how powerful it is for students to relate to their academic studies through food and cooking. I just knew I’d be impressed, but I hadn’t expected to have my already high my expectations blown away!

So what blew me away? I think more than anything, it was seeing first-hand the power of this project to engage and inspire not just students, teacher, parents and those directly involved with the project but those from the broader community and really from across the country.  IMG00077

The folks at the Chez Panisse foundation  describe it so well: “Using food systems as a unifying concept, students learn how to grow, harvest, and prepare nutritious seasonal produce. Experiences in the kitchen and garden foster a better understanding of how the natural world sustains us, and promote the environmental and social well being of our school community.”

This morning, as I look out at the frozen ground that was my front lawn just a few short weeks ago and reflect on what I saw and learned about in Berkeley, I know that there are a host of geographic, climate, economic and policy obstacles that stand in the way of there being an “Edible” at my son's middle school or at the thousands of middle schools across the country. But, if we look at those same obstacles through a lens that recognizes the importance of “using the food system as a unifying concept,” I am confident that we can come up with a way to provide all students with similar experiences.   

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