At Edible Schoolyard NYC, we teach our students the importance of sitting down at a communal table and taking pleasure in sharing food with the ones they love. For us, this all starts by teaching our students to take pleasure in the hard work that gets food to the table and how their food choices not only affect their health, but the health of the environment.
In October 2010, we established our first Showcase School at P.S. 216 in Gravesend, Brooklyn where we transformed a half-acre parking lot into a fertile garden where our students grow more than 60 varieties of fruits, vegetables, grains and herbs. As part of our goal to make edible education accessible to all of NYC’s pubic school children, we are in the process of establishing a Showcase Schools in each of the five boroughs of New York City. At every Showcase School, Edible Schoolyard NYC will build an organic, four-season garden and Kitchen Classroom where our staff will teach our integrated and interdisciplinary curriculum, provide family and community programming and training for teachers and principals throughout New York City.
Research (and our daily experiences at Edible Schoolyard NYC) show that involving children in the growing and preparing of their own food can have a lasting effect on their eating habits. Students who grow and harvest their own vegetables are more likely to eat them. They also show a willingness to try new foods, which is often the first step toward developing healthier eating patterns.
In our garden classes at P.S. 216, we see students begging to get a taste of the lemon sorrel they grew themselves and scrambling for seconds of salads full of greens they watched sprout from the ground. We have seen students who have resisted eating vegetables throughout their lives learn to open their minds and eventually their mouths to new foods…and it turns out that they love them! Some of the most promising stories we’ve heard are those of the students who take these new lessons home to their families. We hear stories of students who request that their parents buy radishes at the store, who ask to help prepare a recipe they learned in the garden and who demand their family sit together to eat. As our visionary Alice Waters says “setting the table with a tablecloth and flowers, and sitting down to eat together, even for twenty minutes, creates a different model of eating and relating for children used to inhaling meals on the run.” This is the relationship we hope they take home with them and continue to practice throughout their lives.
Last summer we hosted a family program where students and their families spent four consecutive days together doing garden work and preparing a meal together. One mother said her family made a point to sit down together to eat dinner every night after camp and talk about the important things they had learned that day in the garden. For us, this is the mark of a truly successful garden program – one that instills in our students and their families a sense of pride and excitement about the food choices they make. Choices they are eager and excited to share with others around the table.
Christiane Baker is the Executive Director of Edible Schoolyard NYC, a nonprofit organization that works to incorporate health, wellness and sustainability into New York City’s public school curriculum through lessons taught in the garden and kitchen classroom. Our long-term goal is to combat childhood obesity by providing all of New York City’s 1.1 million public school students access to an edible education.