Monday, March 10, 2008

Lovely Lunches

Lynn from OrganicMania asked me to reminisce about my halcyon Berkeley food days after her posts about school lunch reform got me musing about times past. Thanks for the opportunity to guest post!

...In my students' minds, the crisp lettuce in the field we skipped through on our journey was just as fascinating as the computers that awaited amidst the stacks of books at our local library. It was 1998, and most of the young men and women loping past the garden had no access to computers at all (many had just arrived in the country). But it was the vegetables that held their attention. On a field trip off-campus with an English Language Learner class, I couldn't help but marvel at the audible excitement and interest over the garden and its teen gardeners. Teacher Patti Rathwell got her students into King's school kitchen routinely, brought food into the class to illustrate everyday concepts, and the students' families brought in delicacies representing cuisines from all over the world to mark special celebrations. Speaking over a dozen languages, the premium form of communication among our students was laughter, gesture, and the anticipation of flavor.

In 1998, I was a student teacher from UC Berkeley's MUSE Program apprenticed to two classrooms at Martin Luther King Middle School. The nascent Edible Schoolyard program, started in 1996 by a collaboration between Chez Panisse and the school (via the Chez Panisse Foundation), was thriving by the time I landed at King. As I recall, the kids called it the "Peace Garden" and every one of the kids I taught, from middle school second language learners ranging from 6th to 8th grade, to the 8th graders in my humanities class, was itching to get their hands dirty. You could almost see the infusion of energy into the crops. These kids were fascinated with what their peers were creating, with their bare hands and brains. They longed to be outdoors, to work with the soil. But even more, they longed to be in the kitchen, chopping and slicing and mixing and...eating! I've never seen such a worthwhile channeling of teen squirm in all my life.

I've been thinking about the Edible Schoolyard recently, as I face the reality of public school lunches here in DC for my daughter and her friends. I'm heartened by the fact that Berkeley, and other schools like Wisconsin's Appleton Central Alternative School (ACAS), have adopted programs harnessing the power of delicious and satisfying food to improve not just health but performance. Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children, by Ann Cooper and Lisa Holmes, is a riveting book that chronicles success stories like the Edible Schoolyard and Appleton's ACAS, while giving parents concrete suggestions: healthy recipes and contact info for organizations working to effect change in lunch programs.

One school that's crafted a school environment rich in healthy food and a focus on physical education is Appleton's ACAS (which banned vending machines and instituted fruit-and-vegetable rich breakfasts and lunches). Appleton has quantifiably documented the impact of providing "nonchemiccally processed foods that are low in fat, salt, and sugar, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables." Improvements seen include: more focused on-task behavior, increased cognitive development, fewer health concerns, fewer discipline problems, better attendance, and better nutrition outside of school.

Wouldn't it be great if all of our schoolchildren (many of whom rely on school breakfast and lunch programs as their primary source of nutrition) got a side of nutrition education and sustainable agriculture with their salad bar lunch?

Where to look for more info about transforming your own school? Check out the following organizations for ideas.

*photo courtesy of Dawn Allynn at sxc (see more of Dawn's work here.)

I'm a guest writer for OrganicMania today -- go check it out!


Cathy Mullins said...

What a fabulous post! Full of good news on a topic that seems fraught with misery. I didn't know there were so many people and programs working to make these very needed and positive changes. Thanks!

I ate at Chez Panisse once. All I can say is "get over yourself." Anyway.

Sarita said...

I absolutely agree with cathy - fabulous post. I've done a lot of work with young people and community gardens and I have always dreamed of teaching a class whose lessons were grown out of the garden. You've really inspired me to think further about this with my EFL students here in France. Thank-you!

Laura said...

Hey Mamabird -- I wish we had a garden here. No school lunch for the unschoolers, but the last garden Jesse and I planted didn't fare so well through hurricane Isabel in 2003. It's been five years -- we should be thinking about trying again. :)

These programs sound wonderful. :)

Anonymous said...

i've always dreamed of the chez panisse/berkeley community gardens!!! so cool to hear your account :)

The Hen said...

Welcome to DC Moms Blog (I am at CMB). Love your site. Looks like we have some interests in common. I will be back to look again.