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Weeding, Writing and Arithmetic in Brooklyn

Credits: ©2010 KIM SEVERSON / New York Times

Editor’s Note: The Edible Schoolyard is extending its reach from California to New York. P.S. 216 in Brooklyn is in the process of building a public school garden and kitchen classroom. Connected to the south side of Kitchen Classroom is the Mobile Greenhouse: a lightweight polycarbonate structure that extends the garden’s growing season by covering 1,600 square feet of soil in the fall and winter. By sliding it over the Kitchen Classroom in the spring, new crops can be planted in the same earth. On the north side, the Systems Wall is a series of cylindrical spaces that include a 1,550-gallon cistern for reclaimed water, composting and waste-sorting stations, dishwashing facilities, a tool shed and a chicken coop. Next to an outdoor oven and large picnic table in the garden is the Ramada—a round seating area, shaded and protected by a roof of photovoltaic panels, where children gather to become oriented for the morning lesson.


Edible Schoolyard NYC Cropped

The Edible Schoolyard at PS 216 in Brooklyn features many sustainable elements such as a 1,550-gallon cistern for reclaimed water, composting and waste-sorting stations, dishwashing facilities, a tool shed and a chicken coop. Next to an outdoor oven and large picnic table in the garden is the Ramada that is shaded and protected by a roof of photovoltaic panels. The classroom building itself is covered by a sort of greenhouse that extends over soil in winter for clod-weather growing. ©2010 WORKac

KIM SEVERSON January 19, 2010 - NYT -

THOSE who believe trends start on the West Coast and are perfected on the East Coast might add to their argument a garden planned for an elementary school in Brooklyn.

This summer, supporters will tear up a quarter-acre of asphalt parking lot behind P.S. 216 in the Gravesend neighborhood and start building the first New York affiliate of the Edible Schoolyard program, developed by the restaurateur Alice Waters of Chez Panisse.

It’s a $1.6-million architect’s dream.

A new building, powered by the sun, will hold a kitchen classroom with communal tables where children can share meals they make from food they grow in the garden.

Designers from the Work Architecture Company have incorporated a chicken coop, a composting system, an outdoor pizza oven and a cistern to collect rainwater. A movable greenhouse will be rolled out each fall.

Teachers will use the garden to give students — 460 children from prekindergarten to the fifth grade — lessons in subjects like art, math, history and science. Administrators hope the school will eventually become a center for the study of the environment and agriculture.

The P.S. 216 project will be not only the most expensive of the six Edible Schoolyards but also the only one to operate year round.

The original, built 15 years ago at a middle school in Berkeley, Calif., cost about $75,000, Ms. Waters recalled.

She will attend a series of invitation-only events in New York next month to raise money for the garden and for the Chez Panisse Foundation. Ms. Waters, a former Montessori teacher, set up the foundation to improve food and education in public schools.

Leading the fund-raising charge will be John Lyons, a movie producer and foundation board member.

Mr. Lyons, the son of a high school librarian, began volunteering at P.S. 216 five years ago and has made the garden his personal project. Even though private money will pay for construction and the estimated $400,000 a year in staffing costs, some might wonder if a multimillion-dollar garden is what a public elementary school in a large, cash-short district really needs.

The most-recent critic of the Edible Schoolyard program is Caitlin Flanagan, whose lengthy essay “Cultivating Failure,” published in The Atlantic, attacks Ms. Waters and garden-based education.

Ms. Flanagan argued that school gardens are a vast pedagogic experiment based on a set of untested assumptions.

“I have yet to find a single study,” she wrote, “that suggests classroom gardens help students meet the state standards for English and math” in California, where she lives.

She found it especially distasteful that the children of migrant farmworkers might be sent to the fields in what she regards as an unhealthy mix of public schooling and social engineering.

On blogs, in e-mails and over dinner tables last week, the food intelligentsia quickly mounted a fierce defense.

Anyone who has come home from school carrying a sprouting bean in a foam cup can attest that growing plants has long been used as a teaching tool.

The Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley pushed the concept further, and became a model for thousands of schools that now use gardens to teach academics. Still, little research exists on the efficacy of a garden-based curriculum, said W. Steven Barnett , a professor of education, economics and policy at Rutgers.

“We get a lot of this either-or in education,” Mr. Barnett said. “It’s gardening or it’s Shakespeare. Those are mostly false choices. You have to think about it as integrated into the child’s learning experience, whether it’s about science or nature or health or where food comes from.”

At P.S. 216, Principal Celia Kaplinsky dismisses criticism like Ms. Flanagan’s with a patient smile. She started her career teaching in Harlem more than 30 years ago and has three master’s degrees.

“Everything we do is interdisciplinary, and this will be no different,” she said. “It’s just a new dimension of teaching. It’s not an extra.”

The curriculum will be designed with help from Teachers College at Columbia and will meet New York State standards, she said.

The garden is also intended to build community. Most of the students at the school speak a language other than English at home. Ms. Kaplinsky imagines Russian, Pakistani Chinese and Mexican families sharing recipes and gardening tips.

The school’s parents association has thrown itself behind the project, even creating a mock-up of a garden just inside the school entrance to build interest.

As to the critics who think sending children to the garden to work the dirt is an ill-conceived form of forced labor?

“The only thing we force them to do is learn,” Ms. Kaplinsky said. “And we do it so it doesn’t hurt.”

Additional related article in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
School Lunches Enter the 21st Century
by Phoebe Neidl

Nutritious, Fresh Food a Growing Brooklyn Trend


By Phoebe Neidl

and Harold Egeln

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

BROOKLYN — Gone are the days of mystery meat lunches. School cafeterias are on their way to getting healthier, fresher and more nutritious due to a growing movement that is uprooting the way school children eat.

The campaign includes schools where students grow their own edible gardens and the results end up on their school cafeteria menu.

The trend extends from the White House lawn to Brooklyn schoolhouse gardens, as the borough takes the green lead in the city.

Brooklyn’s enthusiasm for the healthy lunch movement caught the attention of Alice Waters, the renowned chef and organic food activist behind the Edible Schoolyard program, which first began in San Francisco in 1995. P.S. 216, a pre-K-through-fifth grade school in Gravesend, will soon become the first New York City affiliate of the Edible Schoolyard program.

The students will plant, harvest, prepare food and eat together, which will tie into a comprehensive interdisciplinary curriculum involving science, math, social studies and the arts.

Part of what is now an asphalt-covered yard at the school will be converted into a quarter-acre organic farm, a kitchen classroom, and a mobile, four-season greenhouse.

They are raising funds for construction, which will hopefully start in June of 2010, says Erica Lowry, strategic director for Edible Schoolyard. They’ve identified donors and are working with the School Construction Authority.

Edible Schoolyard CEO John Lyons had worked with P.S. 216 through another program, PENCIL, and knew the school had a “fantastic community and a fantastic principal,” as well as a great space for it — a 50,000-square-foot lot, says Lowry.

Also, the school is in Community District 15, which has the third lowest percentage of green space in Brooklyn, Lowry said. And as a Title 1 school, all of the students qualify for free lunches.

“It’s hands-on, inquiry based learning. It’s more meaningful than what they’re reading in a book,” she says.

“To have a garden on site the children can visit, you can really tie in what they’re studying, even history and literature ... and it’s particularly powerful to have a tie-in with the parents and the community. You can invite chefs and family members and show off what you can do with a garden.”

Though Brooklyn is attracting cutting edge national programs, it’s also home to one of the oldest. Brooklyn Botanic Garden (BBG) realized the importance of educating children in gardening long ago. They started the Children’s Garden program in 1914, which allowed children to tend their own individual garden plots in a time when Brooklyn’s green spaces were becoming few and far between. BBG also provides curriculum to local, Title 1 schools through their Project Green Reach.

“We’ve seen an increased interest in creating school gardens,” says Sharon Myrie, VP of education at BBG. “There has been a much greater emphasis and focus on growing food locally and encouraging youth to eat healthier food and vegetables. It certainly has been shown that children are more inclined to eat food, especially vegetables, that they grow themselves. There is a lot of pride that goes into growing their own produce.”



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