Iowa Public Television

 

Agriculture city students can sink their teeth into

posted on April 7, 2000


U.S. AGRICULTURAL SPECIALISTS ARE MONITORING THE OUTBREAK OF HOOF AND MOUTH DISEASE IN ASIA. THE OUTBREAKS IN JAPAN AND KOREA THREATEN TO INFLICT HUGE LOSSES ON THE COUNTRIES' LIVESTOCK INDUSTRIES. A SIMILAR 1997 EPIDEMIC IN TAIWAN FORCED THE SLAUGHTER OF 14 MILLION PIGS, DECIMATING THE ISLAND NATION'S 1.5 BILLION-DOLLAR PORK EXPORT MARKET. SUCH OUTBREAKS CAN GET THE ATTENTION OF THE GENERAL PUBLIC.

TO BE SURE AN EPIDEMIC IS NOT THE PREFERRED WAY OF TEACHING THE PUBLIC ABOUT THE IMPORTANCE OF THE FOOD CHAIN. PERHAPS THE BEST WAY OF EDUCATING CITIZENS ABOUT HOW FOOD FINDS ITSELF WAY FROM FARM TO PLATE IS THROUGH A FULL SPECTRUM HANDS-ON EDUCATIONAL EXPERIENCE.

LAST FALL PRODUCER JOHN NICHOLS FOUND SUCH A CURRICULUM. IT IS THE BRAINCHILD OF ONE OF THE NATION'S BEST CHEFS, AND IT'S FULLY OPERATIONAL IN A CALIFORNIA PUBLIC SCHOOL.

VISITORS TO MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. MIDDLE SCHOOL IN BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA FIND ALL THE TYPICAL ACCOUTREMENTS ONE WOULD EXPECT AT AN URBAN SECONDARY SCHOOL.

CONCRETE PLAYGROUNDS WITH WELL-WORN BASKETBALL HOOPS; CROWDED HALLWAYS, FILLED TO CAPACITY WITH RAMBUNCTIOUS YOUTH; AND A DEVOTED STAFF ATTEMPTING TO EDUCATE AND INSPIRE YOUNG MINDS.

AND WHILE THE INNER-CITY FACILITY IS SIMILAR TO THOUSANDS OF AMERICAN SCHOOLS, THERE'S SOMETHING THAT SETS KING APART FROM THE OTHERS.

IT'S CALLED THE EDIBLE SCHOOLYARD. AND IT'S THE BRAINCHILD OF BERKELEY'S FAMED RESTAURATEUR, ALICE WATERS.

FOR NEARLY 30 YEARS, WATERS HAS BEEN SERVING WORLD-CLASS CUISINE AT HER OPULENT RESTAURANT, CHEZ PANISSE.

Alice Waters: "I was simply driving from my home to Chez Panisse every day and thought to myself, as I passed the school that it was incredibly run down and it almost looked abandoned to me. And I made a comment to a newspaper guy that how could this be in an enlightened community like Berkeley that a school; a public school could look like this? And so the principal called me up, called me into his office, and I invited him to Chez Panisse and the Edible Schoolyard was born in those conversations. "

IN 1994, WORK BEGAN ON RECLAIMING AN ACRE OF ABANDONED ASPHALT AND WEEDS BEHIND THE SCHOOL.

WHAT WAS ONCE A WASTELAND HAS BEEN TRANSFORMED INTO AN ORGANIC GARDEN PRODUCING A PLETHORA OF FLOWERS, FRUITS, VEGETABLES AND HERBS.

THE PROGRAM IS WHOLLY INTEGRATED INTO THE CURRICULUM AND THE ENTIRE STUDENT BODY PARTICIPATES IN THE OPERATION.

DAVID HAWKINS IS THE EDIBLE SCHOOLYARD'S GARDEN MANAGER. FOR MUCH OF HIS CAREER, HE TAUGHT IN THE BRITISH EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM AND WORKED WITH DELINQUENT YOUTH IN LONDON.

HE'S ALSO AN ADVOCATE OF THE EDIBLE SCHOOLYARD.

David Hawkins: "Oh I love the project. I think it's one of the most important things that's happening in American education at the moment. Not just from the point of view of making a connection between food and the land, but also from the sense of it being a kind of experiential education. And I think American education is rich in information, but it's very poor in experience."

ON A ROTATIONAL BASIS, ALL OF THE SCHOOL'S 900 STUDENTS SPEND TIME IN THE GARDEN... DOING EVERYTHING FROM DIGGING AND LANDSCAPING, TO WEEDING AND HARVESTING.

Nichols: "Does it seem like a garden is a good idea for a school?"

Griffin: "Yeah."

Nichols: "Why?"

Griffin: "Because we get to experience different things. And a lot of kids don't know how to do this. Like me. And I will make sure that I know how to do this. "

JEFFREY LU SPENT MUCH OF THIS DAY WORKING ON A DRAINAGE DITCH THAT WILL MOVE WATER AWAY FROM A WET SPOT IN THE GARDEN.

JEFFREY LU: "This is like really wonderful to have an Edible Schoolyard, because unlike other schools, you don't really get have a chance to go out into nature and make, grow stuff. The river that we made is really cool, 'cause like it's like who thought of making a river, I mean, that's like amazing!"

Mildred Howard: "It's really important for kids to understand how they are connected with the land."

MILDRED HOWARD GREW UP IN BERKELEY. SHE RECENTLY JOINED THE EDIBLE SCHOOLYARD STAFF AND SERVES AS THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR.

Howard: "One thing that's really really holds all of us together, is the land that we all stand on and how things grow, relates to how how we grow as the people what we put into our body, how we nourish ourselves, are all important to learning and to experiencing life. Once you begin to see how other things grow, you begin to make those personal connections."

THE EDIBLE SCHOOLYARD ALSO FEATURES A KITCHEN COMPONENT WHERE STUDENTS LEARN HOW TO PREPARE THE FOOD THEY'VE GROWN.

THE KITCHEN TEACHER, WHO APPROPRIATELY IS NAMED ESTHER COOK, BELIEVES CULINARY SKILLS ARE INVALUABLE TO THE GARDENERS.

SHE ALSO NOTES THAT THE SOCIAL ELEMENT OF DINING TOGETHER IS AN ATYPICAL EXPERIENCE FOR THE VAST MAJORITY OF HER STUDENTS.

Esther Cook: "We did a survey at the beginning of last year where we asked the students who did they eat with, what did they eat and when did they eat? And, most of the kids ate alone. And the idea of actually sitting down to a meal with their whole family, is pretty rare for most of these students. So, you can see why this experience of sitting at the table can be so meaningful to because it's a novelty."

SITTING DOWN TO LUNCH IS A NOVELTY FOR THE STUDENTS, SINCE THE SCHOOL HASN'T OPERATED A CAFETERIA FOR NEARLY 20 YEARS. BUT THE STAFF OF THE EDIBLE SCHOOLYARD HOPE TO REMEDY THE SITUATION. ENE OSTERAAS-CONSTABLE IS THE PROGRAM COORDINATOR FOR THE PROJECT.

Ene Osteraas-Constable: "At this point, we don't really have a cafeteria. We have a snack shack, and there is fast food that's served there, literally... Corporate America is selling food to students here at our public school. And we have as one of our long-term goals to create an ecologically designed integrated kitchen and cafeteria where students will in fact harvest the produce that they've grown in the garden and eat it together at the table."

Nakida Gross: "It's sort of fun just like being a farmer and actually you shouldn't wear new clothes here, 'cause you'll get dirty."

LESLIE STANGER TEACHES 6TH GRADE SCIENCE AND MATH. SINCE THE PROJECT IS INTEGRATED INTO HER CURRICULUM, THE EDIBLE SCHOOLYARD SERVES AS A LIVING LABORATORY FOR STUDENTS TO EXPERIMENT WITH AGRICULTURAL PRINCIPLES INCLUDING GERMINATION, POLLINATION AND PHOTOSYNTHESIS.

SCIENCE ASIDE, STANGER CLAIMS THE EDIBLE SCHOOLYARD YIELDS MORE THAN PRODUCE.

Leslie Stanger: "They learn how to be proud of something and proud of themselves, and that it's okay. They can see the results of their labor, it's very concrete and visible and good, edible and they can taste it and they feel a sense of ownership in this place and they're proud of it. "

ALICE WATERS BELIEVES THE EDIBLE SCHOOLYARD TEACHES CHILDREN THE PLEASURES OF HARD WORK, THE JOY OF THE TABLE AND THE REAL MEANING OF COMMUNITY.

Alice Waters: "They learn how to take care of the land, 'cause that's where their food comes from. They learn how to nourish themselves, how to cook for themselves, and all ultimately they learn how to communicate at the table. And that's where our society is passed on. And it's something that isn't happening at home anymore. Nearly 85% of the kids in this country don't eat one meal with their family. And so I believe that it's important for the public school system to have a curriculum that teaches children these this sort of elementary education."

FOR MARKET TO MARKET, I'M JOHN NICHOLS.

Tags: agriculture education news students urban