A visit to Berkeley’s Edible Schoolyard

The Edible Schoolyard at MLK Middle School in Berkeley
The Edible Schoolyard at MLK Middle School in Berkeley

The Edible Schoolyard, an educational garden and kitchen at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, California, has been my path, so to speak, twice recently. The first time was a cover story in the East Bay Express. The second was an actual visit to the garden, my first visit ever.

I wrote a commentary on the article over at the Ethicurean that covers how the garden works and what the teachers and principal think about the project. Basically, once a week, the students spend 1 ½ hours in the garden or the kitchen. A garden class usually starts with a lesson — like the life history of the mushroom — finish with the children doing some hands-on projects — like grafting branches onto fruit trees or replanting seedlings. In the kitchen classes, they learn about nutrition and cooking and prepare their own lunch. The time for this edible education is taken from science instruction, not from classes that are directly connected to the state assessment tests.
A few weeks later, I visited the garden during their annual plant sale. I contributed in a small way through a purchase of Genovese basil and a dwarf lavender that will supposedly be excellent for cooking and baking (e.g., lavender tuiles from Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert). Below I have a few of my favorite photos from the afternoon.

First, the sign outside of the northern entrance that features a lovely image of greens underneath the letters (most likely by Patricia Curtan, who illustrated several of the Chez Panisse cookbooks). Oddly, it is surrounded by non-edible plants.

The Edible Schoolyard at MLK Middle School in Berkeley
The Edible Schoolyard at MLK Middle School in Berkeley

The garden has a dozen of so resident chickens that I was unable to successfully photograph. But I did get a good shot of what they call the “Chicken Tractor.” Based on its design, I assume that they move the tractor to a recently harvested or tilled spot, put a chicken or two inside the cage, and let the chickens eat the insects, plant debris and whatever else they can find. The chickens will then leave droppings that will enrich the soil. Much larger systems like this are used at many farms, including Eatwell Farm near Davis, California (here is something I wrote for Eat Local Challenge about Eatwell’s chicken operation).

"Chicken tractor" at Berkeley's Edible Schoolyard
“Chicken tractor” at Berkeley’s Edible Schoolyard

Part of the eastern border of the garden has a “wall” of apple espaliers, a compact, almost two-dimensional way to grow some kinds of fruit.

Apple tree espalier at the Edible Schoolyard
Apple espalier at the Edible Schoolyard

The garden has some less popular vegetables, like cardoons. Unlike an artichoke, one doesn’t eat the immature flower, but instead eats the lower stalks (after much preparatory work). I tried cardoons once a while ago and didn’t like them very much.

Cardoons at Berkeley's Edible Schoolyard
Cardoons at Berkeley’s Edible Schoolyard

Near the kitchen I ran across a display case that contained several drawings of prospective garden superheroes. There was Lemon Lady (“squirts lemon juice in villain’s eyes”), Red Raspberry (“waves her magic dust and the raspberry goes back to ripeness”), and my favorite, Mulch Man, perhaps the invention of a student who just did some work in on the compost pile.

"Mulch Man", a garden superhero at the Edible Schoolyard
“Mulch Man”, a garden superhero at the Edible Schoolyard

For a satellite view of the garden, go to Google Maps (or Google Earth, I suppose) and type 37.882486, -122.276075 into the search box and click the “Search Maps” button. It should bring up a map that is centered on the garden (or perhaps on the nearest address).

The Edible Schoolyard website also has plenty of information about their program, including resources for teachers and those hoping to start their own school garden. There is also a book by Alice Waters about the garden, Edible Schoolyard: A Universal Idea.

More photos are in a set at Flickr (and are available in higher resolution there).

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