Local News

Saturday, Oct 08 2011 08:05 PM

Edible schoolyard 'an idea whose time has come'

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    By Jaclyn Borowski / The Californian

    Alice Waters, author of 'Edible Schoolyard: A Universal Idea,' discusses her book at the opening of the Buena Vista Edible Schoolyard at the corner of Buena Vista Road and Panama Lane. The 1-acre garden and adjacent classrooms and kitchen will be maintained by the Buena Vista Elementary School sixth graders and will include a curriculum that relates garden care to subjects such as math, science and history.

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  2. 2 of 5

    By Jaclyn Borowski / The Californian

    The kitchen at the Buena Vista Edible Schoolyard will assist a curriculum that relates garden care to subjects such as math, science and history.

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  3. 3 of 5

    By Jaclyn Borowski / The Californian

    A large wasp buzzes around a sunflower during the Buena Vista Edible Schoolyard opening on Saturday afternoon.

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  4. 4 of 5

    By Jaclyn Borowski / The Californian

    Fruits and vegetables have been planted at the Buena Vista Edible Schoolyard, which will be maintained by the Buena Vista Elementary School sixth graders and will include a curriculum that relates garden care to subjects such as math, science and history.

    click to expand click to collapse
  5. 5 of 5

    By Jaclyn Borowski / The Californian

    Fruits and vegetables have been planted at the Buena Vista Edible Schoolyard, which will be maintained by the Buena Vista Elementary School sixth graders and will include a curriculum that relates garden care to subjects such as math, science and history.

    click to expand click to collapse
BY CHRISTINE BEDELL Californian government editor cbedell@bakersfield.com

The edible schoolyard across from Buena Vista Elementary in southwest Bakersfield celebrated its grand opening Saturday with an elegant reception on the grounds and a star guest: Alice Waters, chef, author and proprietor of the internationally known Chez Panisse Restaurant in Berkeley.

Waters is also known as a leader of the "slow food" -- as opposed to "fast food" -- movement that preaches the cooking and eating of locally grown, organic foods and the development of school gardens and kitchens to teach children the value of such healthful living.

Waters is both praised and chided as elitist for her efforts, which include publishing multiple cookbooks, creating the Chez Panisse Foundation to support educational programs and helping the Berkeley Unified School District revamp its meal program.

The Buena Vista Edible Schoolyard -- a large, beautifully manicured garden and kitchen classroom where children will grow and cook food -- is modeled after one Waters pioneered in Berkeley. The local Grimm Family Education Foundation donated the land for it and committed $400,000 a year for its ongoing maintenance.

Another is being developed at the new Grimmway Academy charter school in Arvin.

The Californian talked to Waters before the grand opening:

Q: How is the effort to create more edible schoolyards going in this time of budget cuts?

A: This is an idea whose time has come. Nothing could be more economical than planting your own garden. All the food is free. I think it's something we all need to learn about: how to live in this world in a sustainable way.

So, with the health crisis and the environmental crisis, we need to really pay attention to what's happening in the public schools. Because that's the only place that we can touch every single child.

Q: But how far has your foundation been able to take the effort?

A: Well, it's extraordinary how many gardens have been inspired by the edible schoolyard over 15 years. At the beginning, I would say, it was hard to plant the seeds of this idea. But now it's fertile soil and I think that we are at a moment in time where something like this garden and kitchen classroom in Bakersfield feels like the most important thing that's happening right now.

Q: I eat lots of fruits and vegetables but buy the cheapest stuff on the shelf for economic reasons. Why should someone like me rethink my habits?

A: Because we don't know enough about food and how to cook it. Once you learn how to bake your own bread, you find it's half as expensive as buying it in the store. You understand when you have a pumpkin that the yield on a pumpkin is astonishing. And then you realize how nutritious it is. And then you figure out ways to cook it. And it's kind of a revelation.

Beans and rice are a protein, and what better source of protein? How great, how affordable? We have to learn about this all again.

... I go to the farmers market every Saturday. There's always something affordable. At the harvest of tomatoes you can get them for half price. Even heirloom tomatoes. It's amazing.

We have to discover this together, and decide that we would rather spend money on food and support the people who are taking care of the land -- because that's where it all comes from -- than to buy another iPhone.

Q: We've actually seen farmers markets close locally. Do you know if that's bucking or following a larger trend and do you have any advice for farmers markets that are struggling?

A: I know there's a program for food stamps, a great one in New York, where the actual food stamps are worth more in the farmers market than in the supermarket. And they're redeemable -- food stamps -- in California as well.

So we need to celebrate that.

And we need to help people come to those markets. It's something the city of Bakersfield could do.

Put up the signs and compete with the fast food alley of restaurants. Really encourage people to eat healthily, buy good food, things that don't cost any money. Just shouting it out in the newspaper. It should be the first thing the mayor of the city of Bakersfield does, say, "Do you know what days the farmers markets are? And I'm going down there myself."

Reporter: Our mayor owns the local ambulance company.

Waters: He should drive down in his ambulance!

Q: What effect is this "buy local" movement having on big agriculture?

A: They're all having pictures of farms in their advertisements. They're saying they have salads on the menu. A remarkable one is the biggest company of all, Walmart. They're having a conversation with the First Lady. And they are trying to buy from local, organic farms. Now they're a gigantic producer of a lot of things that make people unhappy. But we have to understand the priority of taking care of the land. And that's what organic farmers do.

Waters offered tips on learning more:

With the Edible Schoolyard program, we're going to be gathering all the information about the gardens, the curriculum in the schools around the world, so any parent or teacher can come to the site (www.edibleschoolyard.org) and find the information they need.

We're going to map the movement, so that we feel we can put wind at the back of the powers that be because that's what we need to do. We need to show the President that this works and that this should be a priority.

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