Edible Schoolyard is the brainchild of Alice Waters, owner of Chez Panisse Restaurant in California. She began the project all the way back in 1995 at Martin Luther King Jr. middle school in Berkeley, just a few blocks from her restaurant. In an area where fast food was most popular for student lunches, Waters set out to teach children about nutrition, food, and health by inserting a garden into the schoolyard where they could grow, cook, and eat their own vegetables. Since then, gardens have popped up in San Francisco, New Orleans, Greensboro and Los Angeles.
At P.S. 216, children have planted lettuce, tomato, eggplant, zucchini, kale, carrots, and countless herbs on the quarter acre farm just outside their classrooms. Jake Gyllenhaal, a member of the board and Edible Schoolyard ambassador, stopped by last fall to join in on the multi-faceted hands-on learning in the garden. Growing up on a farm, the project hits home for Gyllenhaal as he credits growing and eating the family’s own food as the backbone of their incredibly strong bond.
The lessons learned from this schoolyard garden are just as numerous as the blossoming plants. Children not only learn about health and sustainable, organic farming, but also about working together as a community. They hold weekly farmers markets and have some of New York’s most popular restaurants as regular customers. The garden is also a place for students to practice the rest of their curriculum. They use math to measure portions and even geography and history to learn where plants come from.
The most exciting part for the kids is perhaps the cooking and eating of their garden veggies. Waters commented on the impact these activities have on the children saying, “They really feel kind of empowered. When kids grow it and cook it, they all want to eat it.” Tomato toasts and salads are now part of the school lunch menu, and the outdoor pizza oven is certainly a favorite addition as well.
One child who admittedly had never heard of kale now sings the praises of vegetables saying, “Whoever doesn’t like carrots, I think there’s something wrong with them.”
Edible Schoolyard New York’s long term goal is to have 25 school gardens in the city, at least one in each borough, to revolutionize the school food systems and integrate healthy living into children’s education.
All images via Edible Schoolyard New York