Edible Schoolyard brings healthy learning to the Bay Area

A Chez Panisse chef grates fresh cheese and prepares other ingredients before the restaurant opens. Photo by Aiden McGarrigle

BERKELEY, Calif. — Sixteen years ago an empty lot was all one could find next to Marthin Luther King, Jr. Middle School. Today it’s a thriving garden sown by the hands of its students. Alice Waters realized her dream by founding The Edible Schoolyard and creating this garden. This month, Waters’ other and original endeavor, Chez Panisse restaurant, celebrates its 40th anniversary, while commemorating the evolution of the Chez Panisse Foundation into The Edible Schoolyard Project to help expand its mission to other schools.

This program didn’t just create itself; Waters verbally dug a small hole for herself that she quickly filled. She was being interviewed on TV and spoke about the local middle school near her restaurant and how it could potentially offer better lunches for the students. The principal of Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, Neil Smith, sent Waters a letter and suggested that she do something to help rather than just criticize. In response, Waters invited him to lunch, which resulted in the creation of The Edible Schoolyard, which educates students about growing their own food and good nutrition.

Students cook the vegetables they grew in their garden at King Middle School. Photo courtesy of The Edible Schoolyard

At King Middle School, the one-acre garden isn’t just used to grow fruits and vegetables. Teachers integrate the students’ experiences in the garden into their science and math classes for an interactive learning experience. Students also attend garden and cooking classes where they learn about what they are growing and how it can be used in the kitchen. David Prior, director of cummunications at Chez Panisse,  says that Waters also hopes to deliver this program to every level of education. Waters is co-creating a college class, Edible Education 101: The Rise and Future of the Food Movement at the University of Califoria-Berkeley.  The goal is to educate youth and keep them healthy. Prior said, “Edible education with physical education for kids with healthy meals gives kids a real fuel for learning.”

Learn more about the class from a recent Mother Jones magazine blog by noted food writer Tom Philpott here.