REVIEW: Edible Schoolyard by Alice Waters

As I mentioned earlier, I received Alice Waters' Edible Schoolyard: A Universal Idea in the mail - again, thanks to Chronicle for the hook-up.

It took me about 20 minutes to read it in its entirety yesterday, as it is part information and part photoessay.  With that in mind, there's no reason why each of you shouldn't seek out this book.

As most of you have gathered from personal experience with me or from my blog alone, I have a propensity for gushing.  I'm just that way and, when I do gush about something, it is absolutely sincere; I assure you that when I don't like something, you'll know it (Don't even get me started on Edward Tulane.  Just don't.).  So I'm about to gush about Edible Schoolyard:

Inspired.  That is both the best word to describe Alice Waters' project and the way to describe how I felt post-reading.  I desperately wish I could share some choice quotes with you to show you what I mean, but Waters has such a lovely manner of storytelling that there isn't a way to share with you, unless I were to post paragraphs at a time.  Instead, I will share the "Principles of Edible Education", as listed by Waters:


A school garden, kitchen, and cafeteria are integral to the core academic mission of the school, so that ecology and gastronomy help bring alive every subject, from reading and writing to science and art.


From preschool through high school, every child is served a wholesome, delicious meal, every day.  Good food is a right not a privilege.  Providing it every day brings children into a positive relationship with their health, their community, and the environment.


School cafeterias buy seasonally fresh food from local, sustainable farms and ranches, not only for reasons of health and education, but as a way of strengthening local food economies.


Hands-on education, in which the children themselves do the work in the vegetable beds and on the cutting boards, awakens their senses and opens their minds, both to their core academic subjects and to the world around them.


A beautifully prepared environment, where deliberate thought has gone into everything from the garden paths to the plates on the tables, communicates to children that we are about them. 

The book demonstrates ways that the Edible Schoolyard put this into action at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, from the garden flowers that the kids put on the table to the ways that the garden was worked into the curriculum.  For instance, when the kids harvested the autumn squash, it was used in a lesson on circumference, mean, and median.  Recipes were given to them in one format, and the kids were told they needed to double the recipes (so they could practice their fractions).  They learned about ancient history, as they prepared meals as serfs and lords...the serfs, of course, getting no meat and much simpler fare.  On a non-curriculum level but more human level, Waters shows how the kids learn cooperation and manners, as eating at the school in this manner is oftentimes the only shared meal these kids have in a day.  And they learn that the kitchen and the table are a unifying, neutral place where people come together and share.

If you're looking for specifics on how to start an Edible Schoolyard program, this won't help you too much - it's very vague.  However, you'll learn the eye-opening tidbit that this certainly didn't happen overnight: the school didn't even have its first edibles until 3 years in because, naturally, the soil had to be primed for production.  Waters talks in 3-5-7+ year increments.  The other thing you'll learn is that, if you're interested in the Edible Schoolyard, you'll most likely have to look outside your school district: Waters makes it clear that there was no monetary support available from the school nor the district.  Everything came from donations, both materials and monies.  Waters definitely doesn't give a check-off list of ways to make this happen for your own community (if you've read Alice Waters and Chez Panisse , you'll understand that the way Edible Schoolyard came about was fairly typical of Waters); this could frustrate some readers.  On the other hand, Waters is all about creativity and innovation and, I think, that she leaves a lot of room for that.   As we know, the world's communities are so different and, to implement an Edible Schoolyard, it would certainly take some tailoring to your own specific neighborhood.  So I do encourage you to not get all black-and-white and institutional about this.  Instead, let us consider ways that we can do this in our own manner in our own communities.

This isn't a children's book; in fact, the school & libary marketing rep at Chronicle did let me know they were marketing to adults.  However, that isn't saying that this book doesn't have a place in parent/teacher collections in your children's room.  In fact, I think that would be a prime place for it.  The cover is gorgeous: put it face out and see what happens.  You could inadvertently inspire someone, which is often the best way to do so.  

This book has given me more food for thought than I had imagined, particularly as I am about to enter culinary school.  Yep, you heard it here.  I'm giving my down payment this week and getting fitted for my "whites" (Oh. My. God.).  So, as I enter the program, I'm thinking of ways I can make a difference.  Ways that I can inspire a "conversion experience" in others, just as I have experienced one myself.  And how to keep food, food policy, and the joys of the kitchen in the consciousness of as many people as possible.

Eat, drink, and make a difference though food.

Note: It should be added that, if you want the practicalities of implementing such a program at your local school(s), the Edible Schoolyard website offers lots of information and suggestions.  The website alone is fascinating, but it also helps supplement many of the book's points.


Lisa said...

Ok, Alice Waters, yeah, yeah, she's great...ok, I live in the Bay Area and within walking distance of MLK middle school, so I'm already sold. Now culinary school, for sure??? That's news!!!! Congratulations!!!

Unknown said...

Yeah, Lisa, I know I don't need to sell you - you know I've wanted you guys in NYC for ages, but I still can't believe you're leaving the home of Alice Waters (aka Berkeley).

But think about the schools around here - Iz's school, which is a stellar public school by NYC standards, doesn't have a single area of green space. And that's a good school. Think about the schools in the Bronx, and other areas of Queens & Brooklyn. As far as I know, there has been no implementation in NYC for Edible Schoolyards.

So move here and you and I can make something happen!!!!

LOL! You're clearly married to a "plan-maker" such as myself! "..for sure?" Well, I'm plopping down 10% of my tuition on Thursday, and I've made an appointment with a therapist to help me through the stress (mostly self-created by my perfectionism). So it's fairly certain....

Sarah Hinkle said...

Congratulations Laura! I know you can do anything you put your mind to, and it's inspiring to see your many passions. Best of luck!