Imagine a school where inner-city kids spend part of their day in a garden learning to grow and cook organic foods. Sounds pretty amazing, right? Edible Schoolyard is an organization that makes that happen. In Brooklyn, they transformed this elementary school parking lot into a thriving half-acre organic farm. The students here grow, harvest, and cook nearly 160 different vegetables, fruits, herbs, and grains.
Edible Schoolyard was founded in 1995 by restaurateur and food activist Alice Waters, who initiated the project in Berkeley, California. She understood that integrating such a program into school curriculums was the best way to teach children the connections between food, health, and the environment.
In 2010, the nonprofit brought Waters’ vision to New York City and opened its first demonstration school in Brooklyn. The programs at the Brooklyn school and the one that followed in Manhattan have proven to be successful and valuable additions to these schools’ curriculums.
“Edible Schoolyard NYC’s mission is to support edible education for every child in New York City. All children are educated and empowered to make healthy food choices for themselves, their communities, and their environment, actively achieving a just and sustainable food system for all.” – Edible Schoolyard NYC
The demonstration schools in the program offer hands-on daytime activities for students, and they also work with local communities to provide access to fresh produce and encourage healthy eating.
In an area where student obesity rates and poverty rates are disproportionately high, programs like this have a remarkable impact on a community and, ideally, on the futures of the children involved.
The community programs include evening cooking workshops, weekend community days when gardens and kitchens are open to the public, a low-cost farmstand where produce is sold, and student-organized tastings of recipes that are cooked with foods they grow. All workshops are free and are accessible to the communities the schools serve.
“The goal of all of our programs is to change the preferences, attitudes, and eating behaviors of young New Yorkers in favor of healthier foods. We do this through hands-on, experiential classes that are integrated into the daily school curriculum. In our gardens and kitchens, in homerooms and cafeterias, we’re working to ensure that all children have access to the joyful, transformative power of enjoying fresh and healthy food.” – Edible Schoolyard NYC
Is the program making a difference in these communities? According to Edible Schoolyard NYC’s impact page, it is!
- Over the last two years, they have grown over 97 crop varieties weighing 1,534 pounds in the two teaching gardens
- 95% of children tried the food in the kitchen classes last year, and 89% said they enjoyed it
- 19% of students took food from the salad bar in 2015 compared to less than 1% in 2013
- Parents surveyed reported that their kids ask for healthier foods at home and show interest in cooking
Becoming active participants in growing, harvesting, and cooking food is a wonderful way for kids to make healthy and sustainable choices. Going “off grid” with food and gaining independence from the commercial food system is one of the most powerful steps one can take toward a sustainable lifestyle. I love that these kids are learning this so young, and in a Brooklyn parking lot, of all places. If they can do it, just about anyone can!
Visit Edible Schoolyard NYC to read more about this incredible organization. Throughout the site, you’ll find heartwarming quotes from students, some of whom had never previously stepped foot into a garden. Some report that being involved in the garden is the best part of their day. If you want to help Edible Schoolyard’s mission, you can get involved by volunteering, donating, or simply by sharing the information.