Alice Waters and students at King Middle School’s Edible Schoolyard.

An article which claims edible school gardens, such as Berkeley’s famous one at King Middle School, are “cheating our most vulnerable students”, is ruffling feathers, both on this site and more widely.

“Cultivating Failure”, written by Caitlin Flanagan and published in the January/February issue of The Atlantic, was brought to our attention by Berkeleyside reader Alicia. In the piece, Flanagan argues that children who grow vegetables as part of Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard project would be better off in the classroom or reading a book:

The cruel trick has been pulled on this benighted child by an agglomeration of foodies and educational reformers who are propelled by a vacuous if well-meaning ideology that is responsible for robbing an increasing number of American schoolchildren of hours they might otherwise have spent reading important books or learning higher math (attaining the cultural achievements, in other words, that have lifted uncounted generations of human beings out of the desperate daily scrabble to wrest sustenance from dirt).

Writing on La Vida Locavore, Jill Richardson responds: “I’m sorry but you cannot get it any more wrong than that. I’ve been gardening with my boyfriend’s kids for a few months now and the amount of science (not to mention language, history, and math) they have learned from our adventures in the garden is unbelievable.”

Richardson goes on to describe the many learning opportunities gardening has offered her students.

Meanwhile, on Twitter, Kim Severson, food writer for the New York Times, today tweeted: “Yowser! School gardens under attack as evil? But there is so much real evil out there…”

This one will no doubt run and run.

[Photo: www.edibleschoolyard.org]

Update: Ripostes to Flanagan’s article have, as predicted, begun to appear. Here, on Civil Eats,  is chef Kurt Michael Friese, founder of Slow Food Iowa City, and owner, with his wife Kim McWane Friese, of the Iowa City restaurant Devotay (hat-tip: Eater.com)

Tracey Taylor

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...

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  1. 1. The categorical funding rules have been amended because of the state budget crisis.
    2. You located only one reference of general fund diversions of educations $$ to food service or garden programs.

    Look harder.

  2. From the GATE program F.A.Q, see: http://www.cde.ca.gov/fg/fr/eb/gateprogramfaq.asp

    “* Will LEAs be required to ensure that GATE funds be used to provide services for identified GATE students?

    LEAs may utilize all of their GATE funds to provide services for identified GATE students or they may use all or part of their GATE funds for other educational purposes and/or other categorical programs. LEAs will be deemed to be in compliance with the GATE program and funding requirements contained in statutory, regulatory, and provisional language.”

    Also see: http://legacy.signonsandiego.com/uniontrib/20060902/news_1n2chefs.html

    which reads, in part:

    In Berkeley, where chef Ann Cooper leads her staff to cook from scratch and insists on organic products, the district contributes about $300,000 a year.

    The president of the Berkeley school board, Terry Doran, said the investment is worth it.

    “We have a school board that feels that it’s a legitimate expense to support this effort to get quality food,” Doran said. “We really believe it’s a moral obligation, and at the same time, we are convinced that student achievement will improve with better nutrition.”

    Remember the horrible place we started on this adventure (from 2004):


    “The cafeteria fund is roughly $600,000 in debt. Though district officials say $460,000 of that is caused by the loss of a general fund subsidy, food service deficits have cost the district’s general fund roughly $1.1 million during the past three years—all that in the midst a budget crisis that has resulted in layoffs and increased class sizes.

    “Everyone agrees the food is terrible,” said Eric Weaver, chair of the district’s Child Nutrition Advisory Committee. “That’s not the issue, but the question is how do you fix it when everyone is broke.”

    Wednesday night the district laid out a vision of Berkeley students munching on fresh, locally grown produce but offered few details how the district could pay for it.”

    And, in Waters’ own words: http://www.milwaukeerenaissance.com/Main/AliceWatersChezPanisse

    “In 1996, inspired by The Garden Project at the San Francisco County Jail, Waters decided to apply her principles to education. The Edible Schoolyard Project became Waters’ new passion. The project began at the Martin Luther King Middle School in Berkeley. The idea was to transform some land near the school into a garden and, in the process, to teach local school children about food and agriculture, to reacquaint them with the land. Because funding was unavailable, Waters asked parents and members of the business community for help.

    A parcel of unused land was selected as the site of the garden, and the asphalt shell that covered it broken up and hauled away. In 1999, over 120 people came to help plant the first cover crop, which prepared the field for cultivation by adding nutrients to the soil.

    The student garden staff has already enjoyed several years’ worth of harvest, and has started growing an herb garden that includes tea and medicinal herbs. Agricultural practices are constantly being revised and updated. Every year the Edible Schoolyard staff attends the Ecological Farming Conference in Monterey.

    In the past few years a kitchen classroom has been created. Here students learn about staple foods eaten around the world, and get a chance to transform the garden’s harvest into creatively prepared meals. The cooking of food becomes a lesson in sharing ideas and pooling labor, the eating an opportunity for unhurried social interaction.

    “I believe that every child in this world needs to have a relationship with the land…to know how to nourish themselves…and to know how to connect with the community around them,” says Waters. The middle school students cultivate and harvest the crops, and the cafeteria buys and prepares the produce for school lunches. Waters hopes that this program will teach kids to value fresh food and value their own contributions that will bring it to the table. Eventually, she also hopes that the Edible Schoolyard will inspire a national change in school curricula. Already, other middle and high schools in California and Ohio have launched similar projects. “

  3. 8 years ago at King middle school state funds for Gifted and Talented education GATE were funneled to the afterschool programs as a part of the continued dismantling of the GATE program based on some notion of equity. GATE learners were ignored and underserved.

    That year students the six choices classed with titles such as snack preparation, only one resembled anything connected to educational programming, so my kid chose the book binding class.

    Back in the day, when I was in 6th grade at 11 years old I made all the school lunches for 7 kids before going to school at 8am. Have kids really got so stupid and incapable that at middle schoolers needed a paid instructor to teach them snack prep?

    BUSD spent subsidized the Waters inspired Eco-literacy program with a million dollars of general fund monies during the third year of the federal grant.

    To set the record straight, long before Waters become the national figure she claims to be on school gardens and nutrition, Le Conte K-3 farm and garden program produced excellent science and nutrition education aligned with classroom curriculum. And without all the wasted $$$ used from general fund.