This week’s video takes us to Memphis, Tennessee and Detroit, Michigan. At Green Leaf Learning Farm in Memphis, elementary school aged kids spend their summers learning how to grow their own food. At Catherine Ferguson Academy in Detroit, teen moms learn important lessons about nutrition and life cycles by raising farm animals. Both projects offer different models for how growing food can impact the lives of young people in cities.
I began my career as a journalist in Baltimore reporting on education projects that served as promising supplements to the struggling public school system there. When I moved to New Orleans, this interest brought me to the great work of Edible Schoolyard (ESY). ESY was a project founded by chef Alice Waters in Berkeley, California in 1995. Its mission is to build an ‘edible education curriculum’ and share it with schools across the country. ESY came to New Orleans in 2006 and set up shop at Samuel J. Green Charter School in the hard-hit neighborhood of Freret. Jess Bloomer, Program Manager at ESY NOLA is this week’s contributor to Greater Yield . After the video, read what she has to say about the importance and impact of an ‘edible education’ for the students at her school.
- Andy Cook
On Edible Education
By Jess Bloomer
Program Manager, Edible Schoolyard New Orleans
At the Edible Schoolyard, New Orleans, our mission is to improve the long-term well-being of our students, families, and school community, by integrating hands-on organic gardening and seasonal cooking into the school day. This means finding ways to bring the joy of healthy, fresh, school-grown food into our curriculum, culture, and cafeteria programs. Since 2006, students and families at our schools have been growing, harvesting, preparing and enjoying food together as a means of awakening their senses, cultivating a sense of pride and responsibility for our land and natural resources, and developing a love of fresh, seasonal foods.
The gardens of ESYNOLA have grown to suit the many needs of the schools in which they have been planted. Science, math, language, and social studies lessons become more vivid in the hands-on environment of a garden. We work closely with our academic teachers to support the work they are doing inside the classroom with engaging lessons that help the material come alive. But it doesn’t stop at academics. Gardens and food are intrinsically tied to health, and these urban garden spaces have been the cornerstone of our work to create and integrate a comprehensive wellness program across all five of our school sites. Partnering with several health organizations in New Orleans, we are working to provide the resources that members of our school community need to be physically, emotionally, and nutritionally healthy. In some cases, this means offering therapeutic gardening classes to students with special needs. It also means organizing weekly yoga and fitness classes for staff and parents. And, most importantly, it means empowering our students to make their own healthy choices as they grow into adulthood.
With our students consuming over 70% of their calories at school, it is incumbent upon us to provide food that is wholesome and healthy. But the students also have to choose to eat it, and that’s where ESYNOLA’s work becomes particularly vital. Our surveys consistently show that our students’ food knowledge increases with exposure to our garden- and kitchen-based classes. We have observed that “if they grow it, and they cook it, they will eat it.” Our students who have experienced the bounty of the garden from the seed to the table are more willing to try new foods, and more likely to request those foods at home. This has informed the evolution of our work – parents call to ask how to cook kale, because their son or daughter came home and reported liking this green leafy vegetable that grows so well in our climate. We respond by creating a parent cooking class, and by exposing families to the myriad ways to prepare kale at our family food night events, where everyone goes home with a bag of produce from the garden, recipes, and a feeling of belonging to a school community that cares about their family’s health. Our students face daunting health predictions- this is the first generation to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents- and we are determined that schools have a responsibility to address this issue head on.
After four years of teaching in our school gardens, I cannot overstate the value that they can provide in building our students’ pride and feeding their sense of wonder- two things that can be lacking in a tough urban environment. With seasonal tastings and farm visits, we are making sure the students know they come from a place where you can grow your own food all year round, and where you can delight in the coming of watermelon season, citrus season, strawberry season and blueberry season. Just as important, between those joyful harvest times, the garden also offers a place to slow down in the middle of a school day, and appreciate the wonder of a worm, digging deep into rich black soil, a seed on its first day of germination, and the feel of fresh air and sunshine, shared with your friends. It is hard to think of something that cannot be taught or enhanced in a garden space, but there are certainly things that can only be taught outside, amidst the beauty and calm of the natural world.
Find out more about these projects: