Edible Schoolyard

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The Edible Schoolyard (ESY) is a 1-acre (4,000 m2) garden at the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, California. The Edible Schoolyard was established by restaurateur and activist Alice Waters through the Chez Panisse Foundation. According to the Edible Schoolyard website, the Edible Schoolyard:

involves students in all aspects of farming the garden and preparing, serving, and eating food as a means of awakening their senses and encouraging awareness and appreciation of the transformative values of nourishment, community, and stewardship of the land.

The Edible Schoolyard encompasses garden and kitchen classroom settings and provides a hands-on environment for students in which to apply skills learned in traditional math, science, and humanities classes. The King Middle School garden serves as a model for other Edible Schoolyard affiliate programs that are being established around the country. Currently there are affiliate programs located in New Orleans, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Greensboro, and Brooklyn.


The Edible Schoolyard was founded in 1995 in a vacant lot at the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, in Berkeley. It started as the brainchild of Alice Waters, owner of the renowned restaurant Chez Panisse, located just a few blocks from the school. Since its founding, ESY has been the primary project supported by the Chez Panisse Foundation, a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization founded by Waters to celebrate the 25th birthday of Chez Panisse. The Foundation continues to play an important role in the operations of ESY. The Foundation and ESY are funded primarily through grants and donations.

In 1994, Waters, who recognized potential in the unused plot of land in back of the school, met with Neil Smith, then the principal of King Middle School, to discuss the possibility of transforming the space into a garden project that would involve students, teachers, and community.

Planning for the Edible Schoolyard garden and after-school cooking classes began in 1995, and were offered in the 1995-1996 school year. The first Edible Schoolyard summer program was offered at the end of this school year. The cooking programs at King used organic produce from a local farm until 1997, when they started using the crops harvested from the now thriving Edible Schoolyard garden. During the 1996-1997 school year, the Edible Schoolyard opened the refurbished Kitchen Classroom, which provided space and equipment for in-school cooking classes.

During the 1998-1999 school year, two Americorps positions were added to the garden and kitchen staff at King Middle School. These positions were established to support that kitchen and garden classes that were now taking place for all 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. In 1999, the Berkeley Unified School District adopted a school food policy that emphasized the use of organic foods in school lunches.

In 2004, the Berkeley Unified School District joined with the Center for Ecoliteracy, the Children's Hospital Oakland Research Center, and the Chez Panisse Foundation to establish the School Lunch Initiative, a comprehensive program that encompassed school lunch reform in conjunction with the ongoing kitchen and garden programs at Berkeley Unified District schools. The initiative emphasized the connection between food education, improved school food, and student knowledge relating to food choices. Also in 2004, Ann Cooper was hired to direct the food service program for the Berkeley Unified School District. Processed foods were largely eliminated from the school lunch menu, and local produce became central to all school meals.

In 2005, the Edible Schoolyard and the Chez Panisse Foundation supported the launch of their first affiliate program, ESY NOLA, at the Samuel J. Green School in New Orleans, LA.

Currently, the Edible Schoolyard harvests over 1,000 pounds of fruit and vegetables each year in addition to hundreds of ears of corn and hundreds of chicken eggs.

Mission and Goals of the Edible Schoolyard[edit]

The stated mission of the Edible Schoolyard is "to create and sustain an organic garden and landscape that is wholly integrated into the school's curriculum, culture, and food program."[1] ESY aims to involve students in the experience of growing, harvesting, preparing, and sharing food as a means of fostering knowledge of food and food systems, improving students' food choices, and connecting students to the land, the environment, and their community. It also aims to engage students and enhance their educational experience through activities in the garden and the kitchen classrooms. In accordance with these goals, all students at King Middle School participate in the kitchen and garden programs. Garden lessons are linked to the science and math curricula and standards, while kitchen lessons are linked to humanities curricula and standards.

Guiding Principles of the Edible Schoolyard[edit]

In order to achieve its mission, ESY adheres to five guiding principles:[1]

Participatory: ESY models sustainable practices for its students and actively engages them in activities that connect food, health, and the environment.

Integrated: ESY kitchen and garden classes are integrated into the math, science, and humanities curricula.

Shared: ESY allows students to share meals and experiences with each other, their teachers, and ESY community volunteers.

Delicious: ESY teaches students how to grow and prepare food that is organic, local, and seasonal.

Beautiful: ESY is designed to inspire students and emphasize personal and social responsibility, as well as serve as a model for ESY affiliates.

ESY Curriculum[edit]

ESY curriculum is designed to engage students and teach them lessons that involve food, community, health, and the environment. Lessons are also designed to integrate concepts taught in traditional math, science, and humanities classes. Some of the core concepts taught at the Edible Schoolyard include: cycles, seasonality, and change; sustainability; environmental and personal impact of food choices; and wellness through knowledge of healthy choices.

ESY curriculum is also designed to engage students at various grade levels. 6th grade students, who may be newer to the concept of the Edible Schoolyard, participate in introductory kitchen and garden classes, while 8th graders at King Middle School participate in more advanced classes, such as those involving the use of the ESY's outdoor pizza oven. Classes for all grade levels include grade-appropriate use of standards-based school curriculum, such as using algebra to scale recipes or using ESY experiences to inspire poetry or essay-writing.


An example of a garden class taught in the Edible Schoolyard is the amaranth lesson, which focuses on the amaranth grain grown in the garden. In this lesson, students harvest and winnow the amaranth grain in addition to discussing the use of amaranth as a staple crop in ancient civilizations. After harvesting and winnowing the grain, students write an acrostic poem using the letters of the word "amaranth." They then use the amaranth plant to make a pink dye, which highlights an additional use for the plant.


An example of a kitchen lesson is the panzanella lesson, where students learn about the Tuscan origins of the dish, and how it was created to use up old bread, and then participate in preparing and then eating panzanella. In a typical kitchen class, students meet with the classroom teachers to discuss the steps involved in preparing the recipe, and then break into working groups, where they follow the recipe under the supervision of their teachers. Kitchen classes include sharing the finished dish around communal tables in the kitchen classroom and culminate with clean-up.

Making Mathematics Delicious[edit]

In addition to typical kitchen and garden classes, the Edible Schoolyard has also developed a set of materials called "Making Mathematics Delicious," which demonstrates the practical application of mathematical concepts through rigorous, standards-based math tasks.[2] An example of a Making Mathematics Delicious lesson is the Mathematics of Rhubarb Jam lesson, which introduces a base recipe for rhubarb jam, and then asks students to complete a variety of math questions based on scaling the recipe. Concepts explored in this lesson include dependent and independent variables, drawing graphs, calculating the slope of a line, and writing basic algebraic formulae.

School Lunch connection[edit]

Although the Edible Schoolyard at King Middle School is connected to the school food program through the School Lunch Initiative, the garden does not supply the food that is served to students during the lunch period. Instead, the food in the garden is used in the kitchen classroom, so students are preparing the food that they have grown and harvested. The food that students prepare and eat during their kitchen classroom lessons is not a substitute for the school lunch that is served each day in the cafeteria. Rather, the food prepared and eaten in the kitchen classroom is supplemental to the school lunch period.

Nonetheless, the Edible Schoolyard aims to improve school lunch and students' food choices during school lunch in conjunction with their experiences in the garden and kitchen classrooms. One of the goals of the Edible Schoolyard is to introduce students to new, healthy, seasonal foods in a setting in which they are more likely to try to enjoy them. According to Alice Waters, when students are active in the harvesting and preparing of new foods, they are inclined to try them.[3] By introducing students to new and healthy foods in the garden and kitchen classrooms, the Edible Schoolyard prepares students to eat these types of food when they are provided through the school's food program.

In 2004, the Berkeley Unified School District hired Ann Cooper as head chef for the district's school food program. Cooper eliminated most processed foods from the lunch menu and introduced more local, organic, seasonal produce to school meals, which reflected the food knowledge being taught through the Edible Schoolyard.

School Lunch Initiative[edit]

The Edible Schoolyard is also linked to school lunch through the School Lunch Initiative, which is a partnership between the Center for Ecoliteracy, Chez Panisse Foundation, and several public health research organizations. In September 2010, the Center for Weight and Health and the University of California, Berkeley, released an evaluation report of the School Lunch Initiative.

The report found that students who attended elementary and middle schools with highly developed School Lunch Initiative components ate more fruits and vegetables and scored higher on food and nutrition knowledge assessments than their peers who attended schools with lesser developed School Lunch Initiative components.

Schools with highly developed components integrated cooking and gardening classes into the school curriculum in addition to overhauling the school food service with primarily natural, local, and from-scratch foods. Schools with lesser developed components had overhauled school food service, but did not incorporate regular cooking and gardening classes into the school curriculum.[4]

Edible Schoolyard Organization and Staff[edit]

The Edible Schoolyard program is staffed by several full-time employees and is supported by many part-time volunteers. Each garden and kitchen class ideally has two kitchen or garden teachers, the students' supervising teacher (usually a science or math teacher for garden classes, and a humanities teacher for kitchen classes), and two volunteers, who are usually community members who have been trained by the Berkeley school system. Classes usually have about 30 middle school students.

Currently, the Edible Schoolyard staff consists of two full-time chef teachers, three full-time garden educators, an Americorps member, and three staff members who direct, manage, and coordinate the ESY programs.

Expansion of ESY programs[edit]

In 2005, ESY's first sister program launched at the Samuel J. Green Charter School in New Orleans, Louisiana. This program kicked off the start of the ESY affiliate program, which now includes 5 school garden and kitchen projects around the United States.

The Berkeley ESY and the Chez Panisse Foundation do not fund these programs; rather they provide support and apply lessons learned in order to help the programs succeed. The mission of the affiliate program is to help establish programs with diverse funding sources, in diverse environments, and within diverse institutions in order to show that Edible Schoolyard-type programs can be established everywhere, not just in Berkeley.[5]

Edible Schoolyard New Orleans[edit]

ESY NOLA was established in 2005 and was the first affiliate program of the Edible Schoolyard. It serves two charter schools in the Orleans Parish: the Samuel J. Green Charter School and the Arthur Ashe Charter School. ESY NOLA serves over 700 students in grades K-8, the vast majority of which qualify for the federal free or reduced price school lunch program.[6]

ESY NOLA consists of a 1/3 acre garden, where students have weekly garden classes, and a newly completed kitchen classroom. The garden produces over 3,000 pounds of produce each year. The garden and kitchen highlight the seasonal, local, and traditional foods of New Orleans, and integrate Creole recipes and history into lessons. In addition to garden and kitchen lessons that are integrated into the school curriculum, ESY NOLA also hosts community events, such as family cooking nights and after-school programs.

In conjunction with the garden and kitchen classrooms, the ESY NOLA schools have instituted improved school food programs that emphasize fresh, wholesome, and nutritious foods served in a welcoming environment.

Edible Schoolyard at Larchmont Charter Schools[edit]

The Edible Schoolyard at the Larchmont Charter Schools, located in Los Angeles, serves a population of over 500 students in grades K-6. The schools curriculum is integrated with the garden program, and students apply science concepts through their experience in the garden. Vocabulary, art, and history projects are also integrated with the food lessons from the Edible Schoolyard.

The Larchmont Charter Schools have a unique school lunch program with mandatory participation for all students. The menu features seasonal fruits and vegetables often sourced from local farmers markets, and parents often join the students for family-style lunch in the school cafeteria.

Edible Schoolyard at San Francisco Boys and Girls Club[edit]

The Edible Schoolyard at San Francisco Boys and Girls Club is located in the Hunters Point neighborhood of San Francisco, and is meant to provide access to and knowledge of healthy food choices to children who have limited access to healthy food and nutrition education. The garden was established in 2008 and accompanies a new kitchen where club members participate in cooking classes and prepare healthy snacks.

Edible Schoolyard at Greensboro Children's Museum[edit]

The Edible Schoolyard at the Greensboro Children's Museum opened in May 2010. The museum is aimed at families and young children, and the Edible Schoolyard encompasses an organic garden, a chicken coop, recycling and composting stations, fruit trees, a greenhouse, a pond, and indoor and outdoor classrooms.

The Edible Schoolyard at the museum hosts a variety of programs for children and their parents that focus on preparing healthy foods, gardening, and other seasonal activities. The Edible Schoolyard also hosts a summer camp that teaches campers about organic gardening, food, and cooking.

Edible Schoolyard NYC[edit]

Edible Schoolyard NYC broke ground at the end of August 2010 at a public school in Brooklyn, New York, where they transformed a cement parking lot into a half-acre edible garden. Now working in six schools across the city, Edible Schoolyard NYC is an independent 501(c)(3) that serves Title 1-funded schools located in low-income neighborhoods that have been identified by the NYC Department of Health as having high rates of diet-related diseases. Their vision is that 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.

They also work closely with school teachers and staff, enabling them to build their capacity for edible education based on their particular needs, goals, and resources.[7]


Several people have criticized the Edible Schoolyard. Caitlin Flanagan (2010) criticized the concept of edible schoolyards as detrimental to the educational needs of children. Flanagan's criticism generated wider discussion of the Edible Schoolyard and other school garden programs. Others argue that "career skills grow along with plants"[8] and that presence of a school garden serves to add to and enrich a school's curriculum.[9] W. Steven Barnett, a professor of education, notes that while "little research exists on the efficacy of a garden-based curriculum," Flanagan presents a false choice, noting that the gardens are "integrated into the child's learning experience."[10] The head of Samuel J. Green School in New Orleans, which also has an Edible Schoolyard, noted an improvement in eating a "healthful diet and doing well in school" among students at the school since the Edible Schoolyard was established.[11]


  1. ^ a b "Mission Goals". Archived from the original on 2010-10-05. Retrieved 2010-09-29.
  2. ^ "Making Mathematics Delicious". Retrieved 2010-09-29.
  3. ^ Telepan, Bill (August 31, 2010). "Alice Waters on Teaching Kids to Eat Well and the One Thing She'd Most Like to Change About the American Food System". Martha Stewart Radio Blog. Archived from the original on 2010-09-14.
  4. ^ Rauzon, Suzanne; Wang, May; Studer, Natalie; Crawford, Pat (September 2010). "An Evaluation of the School Lunch Initiative" (PDF).
  5. ^ "Affiliate Network". Retrieved 2010-09-29.
  6. ^ "ESY NOLA". Retrieved 2010-09-29.
  7. ^ "ESY NY". Retrieved 2015-02-17.
  8. ^ "A garden of hope grows in post-Katrina schoolyard". USA Today. May 4, 2004.
  9. ^ Green, Emily (January 29, 2010). "The Dry Garden: If critics would stop picking on the school garden, they might learn a thing or two". Los Angeles Times.
  10. ^ Severson, Kim (January 19, 2010). "At a Brooklyn School, Weeding, Writing, and Arithmetic". The New York Times. Retrieved January 31, 2010.
  11. ^ Kummer, Corby (January 15, 2010). "School Gardeners Strike Back". The Atlantic. Retrieved January 31, 2010.

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Coordinates: 37°52′57″N 122°16′34″W / 37.88250°N 122.27611°W / 37.88250; -122.27611