An Edible Education in Berkeley CA


A welcoming sign at the Edible Schoolyard
What do you get when you combine amazing vision, culinary curiosity and a vacant, asphalt lot located adjacent to Martin Luther King Jr Middle School in Berkeley CA? The Edible Schoolyard (ESY), an organic garden and kitchen classroom which integrates food concepts into the school curriculum for hands-on training and learning during the year. 

A simple lesson in putting things back in their proper spot:  color coded tools used in the garden.

Geoff the cheerful gardener shows off expert raking technique!

A recent tour gave me a close up view of the people and operations plus a healthy dose of respect for the person who started it all. That person being Alice Waters, the venerable force behind the original sustainable, local food movement and proprietor of Chez Panisse in Berkeley CA.

At the base level it’s easy to think “it’s just gardening or cooking” (for anyone who’s ever taken a Home Economics class – this is not IT). The really cool thing going on here is that students are not simply learning WHAT to eat, they are learning how to make – and grow - the things they will eat. The row of corn in the garden will, most likely, end up on a student’s plate having been cooked by fellow students. And in addition to the cooking itself students undergo a fairly intensive knife and kitchen accessories training to learn the basics (eg., “how not to cut yourself with a super sharp knife”).


Kitchen "toolbox" with handy laminted card of contents.

If only my pantry at home were this organized...

It’s really brilliant, in the end. Instead of preaching to kids “do this, don’t eat this” the folks at the Edible Schoolyard are saying “eat more greens, here’s how to get them on your plate – and love them too!” If you will, it’s definitely a carrot (albeit an organic) rather than stick approach.

I’m not sure if this is exactly what Alice Waters intended but it surely struck a chord with me. The program participants will leave middle school with extensive food knowledge and beyond-basic cooking skills they will carry - and share - throughout life.  As corny as it sounds, the seeds have been planted and it will be interesting to see the proliferation of this knowledge. 

Perhaps in 5-10 years an edible schoolyard program in each city across the US will become the norm rather than the exception.  I think the folks at Chez Panisse are on to something here?!

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