Bring something beautiful to the classroom. Bring a bouquet, set things up differently with a beautiful table cloth and a lovely basket of fruit. Prepare the classroom, the kitchen and the garden, so kids fall in love. – Alice Waters /Founder, Edible Schoolyard Academy
I was filled with excitement as I made my way across the Bay Bridge to Berkeley, about to fulfill lifetime dream: attending the Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard Academy (ESY). As a wellness/
nutrition coach for the PJCC, I was one of three given the incredible honor of representing the PJCC to help develop a nutrition and food awareness curriculum for local elementary schools. Our motivation came from California State Senator Jerry Hill D-San Mateo when he visited the PJCC’s Justice Garden. Impressed with our endeavor to promote food justice and education, the Senator expressed his support in helping the PJCC share our curriculum with local elementary schools. Garnering the tools for creating this curriculum was our goal at ESY.
Helping Healthy Habits Take Root
The Edible Schoolyard (ESY) program teaches youngsters how their choices about food affect their health, the environment, and their communities. Now in its 17th year, ESY is the brainchild of Alice Waters, the chef/proprietor of the Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley. Waters is a passionate voice and pioneer in the culinary movement that supports cooking with only the finest and freshest seasonal ingredients that are produced sustainably and locally. Housed at Berkeley’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School, the abandoned teachers’ parking lot was once a neighborhood eyesore, but today is home to a lush and meandering one-acre garden and kitchen/classroom. Students are actively involved in every aspect of food’s life cycle, from planting a seed in the garden and preparing simple meals in the kitchen to using the food waste to produce rich compost to nourish the plants. These essential life skills are priceless and have made the ESY the model program for farm-to-table education. “Farm to school” is a term that defines school efforts to incorporate local and regionally produced foods into school cafeterias. In 2011-2012, a USCA survey of 13,000 public school districts showed that 44 percent across the country have such a program in place. This is exciting news, but in a country where child obesity is on the rise, we still have a long way to go.
Go Slow and Go Deep
ESY educates the educators: the more ambassadors on the front lines, the better to reach the children. At the academy alone, there were over 90 enthusiastic attendees from around the world. However, we were cautioned to “Go slow and go deep.” Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor was the ESY. We should start small, in a corner of the playground or in a few gardening
pots outside a classroom. Let the kids get their hands dirty. Appeal to all their senses, with the taste, smell, sound and sight of fresh produce grown with care and prepared simply.
From ESY to the PJCC
I’m excited to bring my ESY education to the PJCC. When I spoke with Alice Waters, I asked if she had any additional advice as we begin introducing ESY concepts to our students. “I always say we need to work with kids in kindergarten through grade 12,” she replied. “But what I really mean is, get to them at age two. Start at this age and you have them for life.”
The PJCC is always on the lookout for ways to incorporate healthy habits into everyday life. We adopted the Discover CATCH program into our childrens’ programming. CATCH, an acronym for Coordinated Approach to Childhood Health, is an educational program created by University of Texas School of Public Health in response to the rising obesity epidemic in our country. CATCH uses a combination of kid’s nutrition and fitness activities as tools to teach children how to lead healthy and active lives. Recently, the Jewish Community Center Association adopted Discover CATCH, an expansion of CATCH that allows children to explore physical activity and nutrition through Jewish values, instilling healthy habits in children and their families for wellness their way.