Edible Schoolyard by Alice Waters

Book Review 2009

The Edible Schoolyard program has become very well known in the last ten years or so, principally because of its original founder: Alice Waters of Chez Panisse. She was struck by what she saw as wasted space of concrete and asphalt at a Berkeley middle school, as well as the school's only lunch option: corn chips and beef tacos served from a cart on the grounds. She challenged the principal to plant a garden instead, and he challenged her right back! So she mobilized a community effort to create a new kind of education at the school, one that came out of a garden.

But when that garden was finally built and planted, it was students that did nearly all of the work with their own hands. The garden belongs to them, and this book is their story.

Pin it button
Title & Publisher: Edible Schoolyard: A Universal Idea, by Alice Waters. Published by Chronicle Books, 2009.

This is a simply beautiful book. It's a big, hardcover book, like a children's storybook, and it's filled with bright, full-page photographs of the children and the garden.

It starts off with Waters' story of how the garden came together. It all sounds like a small miracle, but there were many people involved. David Hawkins was the first garden manager, and from the start he gave the children control over how it would look and feel. Instead of drawing in landscape architects and planners, as Waters wanted, he insisted that the garden be built over a full summer with a group of kids to help.

The school serves a very diverse community; even though there is a stellar university in Berkeley, there are still many children below the poverty line in the area, and a lot of new immigrant families as well. Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School is definitely an urban school; it isn't especially privileged or well off. In fact, when Hawkins and Waters started this project, the cafeteria had been closed down entirely because there weren't enough funds to bring it up to code.

So these were the children who really shaped the Edible Schoolyard: children from all over the world, and children from various backgrounds. I found it very moving when Waters described the ways that Hawkins drew the kids in to the hard work of gardening, making it playful and also offering them a sense of full investment.

Since that time, the garden has expanded in many ways. Many classes at the school are taught in and through the garden. Children learn about natural history, science, and the humanities through working, harvesting, and eating, and many of these classes conclude with a meal that the kids have helped cook.

It's a beautiful idea, and it's been a wonderful place for the many children who have passed through. I could go on and on about this book and the concept of teaching through a garden, but I'll stop there. If you're interested in education, changing the way that we as Americans eat and think about food, or just want to see a place where ideals came into reality, read this book.

It concludes with a section of a handful of recipes and handwritten assignments from kids over the years talking about the garden. Here are a couple favorites, to leave you with:

Some interesting answers to the question of, "What have you learned in the kitchen" ...

I have learned that vegetables are better than I though. - David P.

I learned how fun washing dishes can be. - Aaron

Something I learned in the kitchen is patience can lead to being full. - Zubeen

Pin it button
Visit: The Edible Schoolyard website

Buy It: Edible Schoolyard: A Universal Idea, $16 at Amazon

(Images: Chronicle Books)

1 Comment