Who would have ever imagined that the best way to get kids to eat their vegetables would be to make them grow their own -- at school? It turns out that a trowel, some seeds and a little soil are great tools for budding environmentalists, cooks and veggie lovers.
Turning a Playground into a Garden
The edible schoolyard is the brainchild of Alice Waters, a food activist and chef who partnered with the Martin Luther King Junior Middle School in 1994 in Berkeley, Calif., to develop a new way to teach children about food, the environment and good health. Waters had a vision for turning lunchtime into learning time.
Concerned with spiraling obesity rates among young people, she drew on her own experiences as a celebrated chef to give something back to the community. Rather than tell kids about the importance of a healthy diet, Waters was determined to show them. What better way to personalize the concepts of good nutrition, eco-friendly practices and the rewards of cooperation than to let students work through the process of cultivating produce from the planted seed to the finished meal?
The resulting pilot program, which turned a one acre garden into an al fresco classroom, has become an international success story. Blending gardening, cooking and life lessons, the edible schoolyard is a celebration of learning by doing. Students are taught how to plant crops, work cooperatively, harvest and cook what they grow [source: Waters].
What Do You Grow in an Edible Schoolyard?
If your kids complain about eating their spinach, they may feel differently after coaxing some leafy greens out of the ground with their own hands. Some personal participation might make them love carrots, tomatoes and cucumbers, too. That's the idea behind the edible schoolyard. Once kids get their hands dirty and start enjoying the fun and other rewards of horticulture, they'll never look at fast food the same way again.
Although an edible schoolyard program is usually a work in progress, it will probably contain fruit trees, herbs and seasonal vegetable crops compatible with the local climate. It may also sport a compost pile and maybe even a chicken coop or dedicated kitchen. It will be supervised by educators and cultivated by students and volunteers. The strategy has been so successful that new programs are cropping up everywhere.
Planting the Right Seeds
Edible schoolyards give children an opportunity to get some exercise, enjoy the fresh air and learn about the environment in a way that's practical and constructive. What's the reward for their efforts? Well, it isn't just a grade. Some of these urban youngsters have never seen a vegetable dangling from a plant before, and working with nature helps teach them firsthand about the effects of weather, the changing seasons and the complex interactions of plants, insects and animals. It helps to teach them self-sufficiency, too.
Knowing that you can grow and prepare your own food is empowering. It gives you control over what you eat and how you eat it, and that's a lunchtime lesson worth learning.