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Agrarian Adventure Modeled on Edible Schoolyard

Berkeley's Edible Schoolyard sprouts seedlings.

A THOUSAND VISITORS A YEAR tour the Edible Schoolyard at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, CA,  to learn how to start gardens-in-schools projects in their communities and how to make food an academic subject. They are encouraged to use chef Alice Waters's Berkeley program as a model, to be adapted to climate, resources, and community needs.

Take the Agrarian Adventure in Tappan Middle School in Ann Arbor, MI. Todd Wickstrom, a father of four sons aged six through 18, is a former managing partner of Zingerman's Deli in Ann Arbor and cofounder of Heritage Foods U.S.A. He visited the Edible Schoolyard in January 2002. "It felt like walking onto sacred ground, the way the students interacted with one another, the passion the staff had," he says. That fall, he began discussions with the principal at Tappan, his neighborhood middle school. Word leaked out through the press, and Oran Hesterman, who had attended Berkeley's King Middle School and lived in Ann Arbor, read about it. Hesterman, director of the Food and Society program at the Kellogg Foundation, offered a $25,000 planning grant.

"We're modeling it on what Alice is doing, with the major exception that the climate is different," says Wickstrom. "We'll build a greenhouse and root cellars and teach children how people lived in Michigan before electricity." Preserving foods, making cheese and salami are among the lessons. "We want the students to learn that chicken doesn't come in breaded nuggets."

In November 2004, Alice Waters came to address a public assembly of 300 at Tappan and a fundraising dinner. Not long after, there was a groundbreaking ceremony at which a local farmer plowed the one-acre field—a former soccer field—with two horses. Students stayed after school that fall to plant garlic, parsnips, clover, and some cover crops to get nutrients into the soil. The Agrarian Adventure is on its way.

Jane Ciabattari is author of Stealing the Fire (Canio's Editions). This article originally appeared in NRTA Live & Learn, Spring 2005.

Watch for new stories every Thursday in Live & Learn, NRTA's publication for the AARP educator community.

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