Martin Luther King, Jr., Middle School in Berkeley, California, is home to the Edible Schoolyard, a gardening and cooking program created by chef Alice Waters in 1995. In the one-acre organic garden and kitchen, inner city kids plant, tend, harvest, and cook—all the while becoming aware of their food and stewardship of the land.
School days: As part of their curriculum, sixth, seventh, and eighth graders alternate between working in the garden and kitchen so they experience the food cycle from seed to plate.
What’s growing: In the garden, kids witness the natural world’s wonders. They push wheelbarrows full of compost across the grounds. They weed rows of carrots. They cut, wash, and bundle chard. They gobble raspberries right off the bush.
What’s cooking: “I want children to know cooking is easy and rewarding, a pleasurable part of everyday life that brings them closer to people they care about,” says Esther Cook, Edible Schoolyard’s chef and kitchen teacher.
Student journal: Charlotte, a middle school student, writes: “In the last ten weeks, I’ve learned how the garden works. Now I wonder about everything: where it lives and why it’s here. I feel proud every time we cook a dish or plant a tree.”
Sourcebook: For Edible Schoolyard recipes or ideas for starting a school garden, visit EdibleSchoolyard.org.
Create your own school garden
“The lunchroom is an extension of the classroom,” says Edible Schoolyard founder Alice Waters. By growing food, children appreciate the cycle of earth to table to waste, then back to earth. By cooking, they learn about healthy meals as an antidote to prepackaged junk food. And by sharing meals, they share their cultural backgrounds—even Grandma’s recipes. “The Edible Schoolyard opens kids’ minds to all kinds of new things to eat,” Waters says. “They can name every edible flower in the garden!”
Waters’s work has graduated to college level with the Sustainable Food Project. In a Yale University dining hall, students eat organic, unprocessed meals prepared with locally grown produce to help educate them about the importance of what they eat and its relationship to economics, agriculture, and the environment.
Waters offers the following tips to help start your own local school garden program
• Create the program to fit your community. Your garden should reflect your school’s major ethnic groups, local foods, and the crops that flourish in the area.
• Involve professionals. Although you need lots of volunteers, both the kitchen and the garden should have a dedicated staff person such as a master gardener, beekeeper, or chef.
• Engage the senses. Plant peas and berries for tasty foraging, visually stunning flowers, scented roses, and species with different textured leaves. Buzzing bees will add sound.
• Designate a meeting place. The Edible Schoolyard uses a pile of hay bales for student gatherings, but a patio, cafeteria corner, or room near the garden will work. The space helps structure class time and provides a place for celebrations and sharing.
• Plan for longer classes. At least ninety minutes is necessary for chores, daily routines, and abundant creativity and flexibility.
Autumn Harvest Soup
From the Edible Schoolyard
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 leeks (white part), thinly sliced
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
3 cups pumpkin, peeled and cubed
3 cups various squash, cubed
5 sprigs thyme
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons parsley, minced
4 cups water or vegetable stock
1 bunch chard, chopped
5 medium tomatoes, diced small
3/4 cup bulgur, soaked in water until tender and drained
Freshly ground black pepper
1. Heat oil in large stock pot and sauté leeks, carrots, and celery for five minutes.
2. Add pumpkin, squash, thyme, garlic, and parsley.
3. Add water (or stock) and simmer until pumpkin and squash are tender—about 10 to 15 minutes.
4. Add chard, tomatoes, and bulgur and simmer another 10 minutes.
5. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper.