Edible education is a concept that is drawing over 1,000 visitors each year to Martin Luther King Middle School in Berkeley. If you’re in Berkeley, I strongly recommend a visit. On March 4, 2010, I joined a group of about 20 visitors to take a look at what the Chez Panisse Foundation has accomplished over the past 14 years. Joining us were school administrators and teachers, fundraisers, parents, and a small group from England, including a chef specializing in local food.
Walking around the garden and seeing students engaged in the work there and in the kitchen is the best way to understand what this program offers.
The garden was green and productive, full of vegetables, fruit trees, and even mushrooms growing in hay bales hung from trees. Chickens pecked at bugs below the “mushroom tree.”
From what I saw and heard from Marsha Guerrero, Director of the Edible Schoolyard, the program has much to offer administrators, teachers, and parent groups who want to establish a sustainable garden/kitchen program. The Edible Schoolyard established an Affiliate Network in 2004 which began with a partnership with the Samuel J. Green Charter School in New Orleans. In addition, other ESY Affiliates have been established at Greensboro Children’s Museum (North Carolina), at Boys & Girls Club of San Francisco, and at Monte del Sol Charter School, grades 7-12 (Sante Fe, New Mexico), and at the Larchmont Charter Schools in Los Angeles. Though guided by the model established in Berkeley, each affiliate is different, with the challenges of different climates and management/funding styles. Each affiliate is a model for schools and groups that dream of building their own garden program. Information about the affiliates is available at the Chez Panisse Foundation website: http://www.chezpanissefoundation.org/affiliate-network
Students and parents were marching with picket signs to protest funding cuts when I arrived at the school about 8:45 a.m., and I asked for directions from Ann Williams, who I discovered is the PTA president. She led me to the garden around the back of the school and gave me a mini tour all the while praising the opportunities the garden and kitchen offer to all the students at the school.
Each 6-8 grader has classes in the garden and kitchen during their time at MLK Middle School. She also recommended a book about gardening and Zen by Wendy Johnson, Gardening at the Dragon’s Gate: At Work in the Wild and Cultivated World. Johnson was previously involved in the ESY and is now at Green Gulch Farms in Marin, CA.
Since 1996, the Chez Panisse Foundation, a non-profit established by Alice Waters, has been funding The Edible Schoolyard through individual donations and foundation grants. The Foundation hires the staff for the Edible Schoolyard—garden and kitchen. Decision related to the garden are made by the 4 garden teachers. Clearly, this garden is loved and cared for by a creative and experienced staff, and by the students. The large garden demonstrates years of care and shaping of the space. I admired the young olive trees, espaliered fruit trees, a charming hand-built gazebo in the center of the garden for class meetings, rows of trellised vegetables, fragrant herbs, flowers, and fruit trees. Also, a beautiful, large brick bread oven dominates the yard.
The olives are picked by the students and brined and served at the school. With a recent donation of 30 fruit trees from the Paul Davis Orchard, students were digging holes with shovels and pick axes in preparation for new trees. It will be years before these trees give fruit, but I imagine these students will return in several years to their school to check on the produce of their labor. To paraphrase the words of the gardenmaster, David King, “For a gardener, patience is not just a virtue; it’s a necessity.