Touring an Edible Schoolyard


Just wanted to…well, plant a seed, if you will. This morning I had an extremely enjoyable experience taking a free tour of the famed “Edible Schoolyard” at Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in North Berkeley.

Our group of roughly twenty was led by Director Marsha Guerrero, who provided a wealth of information-mixed with equal parts of personal warmth and heartfelt enthusiasm. After an initial greeting, we gathered on straw bales under an inviting open trellis, just as the class of seventh graders had done shortly before us, to talk and understand what was on hand for the morning. Then we strolled through the expansive garden itself, past the compost site, greenhouse, tool-shed, chicken coop and more-all while the class of math and science students busily went about the process of learning by doing. Some were distributing a fresh batch of mulch which had been contributed the day before by a local tree service. Others were in the final stages of sifting compost that would soon be added to the garden beds being prepared by still more students for a winter planning.

Next we were taken into the Edible Schoolyard Kitchen where a second class, this one comprised of sixth graders, was preparing a meal they would eventually share together. The focus today was on knife skills. We watched many students at work rocking chef knives as they minced garlic while other trimmed leafy greens with paring knives. Virtually all of the food comes from the same garden the students have helped to cultivate. Interestingly, Marsha pointed out, “If they grow it, they’ll eat it.” The kitchen classroom has found that students are much more recepting to trying (and usually enjoying) different foods when they’ve had a hand in growing them. Sharing the food they’ve prepared together is another integral part of the lesson-as is everyone sharing in sharing in the clean-up before their next class.

To be sure, not all schools have the space and funding to achieve this level of success but Marsha was quick to encourage others by pointing out how much they themselves have learned and grown during the past fourteen years. And in fact, new technologies are helping gardeners grow right on a chain-link fence, removing the obstacle of space. She was reaching the right audience; many of the others taking the tour were visiting from schools hoping to launch or improve existing programs of their own.

The tours are offered once a month, rain or shine, at no cost-but you must make an advanced reservation. Personally, I found the experience immensely impressive and truly inspirational. It’s a treat to see what these people are doing-and highly recommended for all Slow Food members. You can enhance this North Berkeley experience even more by visiting the legendary Monterey Market, practically around the corner on Hopkins. Monterey Market is equally renowned for their extensive selection of high quality produce and their commitment to small, local farms. Also on Hopkins, within a half block, is the Monterey Fish Market; a wonderful purveyor of fresh, sustainable seafood. Country Cheese Coffee Market, Hopkins Street Bakery, Magnani Poultry, and one of the best pizza slices in the Bay Area, Gioia Pizzeria are all nearby.

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