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Reading, Writing and Replanting

Berkeley's Edible Schoolyard remains undaunted by skeptics.

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Ultimately, the Edible Schoolyard's supporters view this assertion that the program doesn't improve standardized test scores as somewhat of a straw man, since no one at the school seems to see the program as a means to that end. No one at King expects that the hour and a half per week spent in the garden will necessarily help close the achievement gap, but the school should be lambasted if it isn't taking drastic steps to help those underperforming students. Lustig believes those steps are already being taken — and they have nothing to do with the Edible Schoolyard.

That's not to say that there isn't an academic aspect to the Edible Schoolyard, however. In fact, the program is designed to be fully integrated into the school's curriculum as a whole, though the extent to which that happens is up to the individual teachers. Connections are often made, both by the kitchen and garden instructors and by the classroom teachers afterward — a connection to a particular poem, for example, or to a principle of geometry. The Edible Schoolyard staff has even created several workbooks that use experiences in the kitchen and garden to teach specific math and science lessons, which are all tied to specific California standards.

But even these kinds of connections, says Lustig, aren't the best justification. As far as he's concerned, the only good reason to support the Edible Schoolyard program is if you think the things the students are learning from it — about gardening, about cooking, about nutrition — are valuable in and of themselves.

"At the end of the day," Lustig said, "I think it's going to be important for the people who support things like the garden and kitchen program to fight the battle on that ground."


There also was a bit of race baiting in Flanagan's article, when she evoked the image of immigrant children being forced to perform manual labor — which certainly seems like a stretch for anyone who has spent time watching these students complete their garden tasks with as little rebelliousness, and as much good will, as you'd imagine is possible from boys and girls just hitting puberty.

What Flanagan may have sensed, and taken advantage of, however, is a perception out there that this Slow Food, locavore movement — to which the Edible Schoolyard is loosely attached — is, at its core, elitist and very, very white. And it's this feeling that there is this elitist, liberal, white political agenda that's being foisted on schoolchildren that rubs some people the wrong way.

Jason Harvey, who runs the nonprofit Oakland Food Connection, has been grappling with that perception for much of his life. Harvey is bi-racial — his mother is white and his father is African American — and grew up amongst people of color. He'd been running a farmers market in West Oakland, but it wasn't until 2005, when he went to a conference in Atlanta and met Will Allen — the groundbreaking urban farmer from Milwaukee — that he had his epiphany:

"I was able to figure out, okay, it's acceptable to be an urban farmer, a chef, a person of color who cares about the environment, and there are other people who are just like me."

The conference validated Harvey's desire to get more involved in the grassroots food justice movement, and he founded Oakland Food Connection in East Oakland shortly thereafter. Like the Edible Schoolyard, Oakland Food Connection also focuses on working with young people — setting up school gardens, running a farmers' market, and educating the youth so that they can make better decisions about food.

Within the African-American community, Harvey finds that there's often a certain amount of resistance and a tendency to label some of the items he might be selling at the farmer's market as "hippie food" — things only white people would eat. But things are starting to change, he says. "There is a huge cultural shift happening right now, where people of color in particular are starting yoga studios and eating brown rice and cooking quinoa and not eating so much meat."

According to Harvey, part of what would help is if people like Waters and Michael Pollan — the big powerhouses of Slow Food — would make more of an effort to reach out to communities of color, so as to make the movement more inclusive.

Back at the Edible Schoolyard, Benjamin Eichorn also believes the program could work on its messaging — especially from the people up top — in order to avoid alienating people unnecessarily. "When Alice says that these kids spend more money on their tennis shoes than they do on food, that's not really helping," Eichorn explains. "It's pushing away. It's not welcoming."

In the end, Eichorn insists that the Edible Schoolyard has no political agenda.

"I don't even use the word 'organic' with them," he says. "And I think that would really surprise someone like Caitlin Flanagan. I don't tell these kids, 'Hey, eat organic.' I say, 'Hey, don't fresh carrots taste great? Here, try one!'"

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