By Monicah Ison
The Edible Schoolyard is an environmental education program offered as part of the curriculum for students at Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) middle school in Berkeley, California. It is designed to educate students about ecology and, more specifically, food systems, through hands-on experiences with gardening and cooking. As a Martin Luther King Jr. middle school alumna, I can now see how the Edible Schoolyard played an essential role in my environmental education.
In 1995, renowned Berkeley chef and environmental activist Alice Waters created the Edible Schoolyard in a barren plot of land on the middle school property. Waters and the school’s principal believed the Edible Schoolyard would enhance the school’s lunch program, as well as reshape students’ connection to food.
In 2009 when I went to MLK, the teachers introduced the Edible Schoolyard program to students by showing a video of the program’s history and evolution. Since then, the program has grown substantially, educating students at MLK and many other schools around the Bay Area and beyond.
Every week, our math/science class would attend the Edible Schoolyard as part of our curriculum. Our Edible Schoolyard featured a circle of straw-bale seats for our lesson. To get there, we followed a path lined on both sides by fruit trees and flowers. In the distance, rows of vegetables sprouted and chickens roamed. At the sitting circle, we would go over the basic rules, expectations, and activities for the day, including planting, harvesting, digging, tasting, etc.
One of my favorite moments in the garden was making apple cider. The Edible Schoolyard’s educator, Farmer Geoff, gave each group the task of gathering and pressing the apples, and using our five senses to describe the end product.
Another aspect of our class that left an impression was learning how to craft delicious dishes in the Edible Schoolyard kitchen. The seasonal fruits and vegetables we harvested in the garden made delicious dishes such as kale pesto pasta, autumn harvest soup, and frittatas using eggs from the chicken coop. For many students, cooking was a new experience, so it was essential that the instructor taught cooking safety precautions. The class learned about food sanitation practices, and how to properly use knives and cooking pans.
I’m sure that during middle school, I didn’t think much about the impact that the Edible Schoolyard would have on me as far as career and educational development. Now that I have graduated college with a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies, I’m able to look back and see the compilation of meaningful experiences that contributed to my interest in the environmental career path. My experiences at the Edible Schoolyard taught me the importance of food and sustainability—and that people deserve to know where their food comes from. When we gain awareness about sustainable food systems, we can change how we think about food and take action to positively impact our environment and communities.