Book Review: Edible Schoolyard

Edible Schoolyard: A Universal Idea
by Alice Waters
Chronicle; $24.95

When Alice Waters used to drive by the Martin Luther King Jr. middle school near her neighborhood in Berkeley, CA, she thought it was deserted. The schoolyard looked abandoned, overgrown with weeds and cracked concrete. After mentioning the use—or rather, misuse—of vacant land in a newspaper article about her restaurant, Chez Panisse, and criticizing the school for wastefulness, the school principal challenged Waters to come up with a solution. She suggested a school teaching garden and, remarkably, in 1995, the cash-strapped school agreed.

Over a decade later, the one-acre garden is a model of both how to grow food for an institution and how to educate kids about nutrition and ecology. With plenty of pictures and illustrations, Waters’ book documents the creation of the school garden, from all of the volunteer work the teachers put in to how students helped design and build the growing beds. The pictures vividly demonstrate the transformation of vacant land into a vibrant green space, and the simple writing leads you through the garden’s story. In Waters’ words, everyone gets something: troubled kids find a fulfilling outlet in the school’s growing garden, teachers get a new way to engage their pupils and Waters ends up with a new food source for her restaurant.

Now, the garden is a big part of the school’s curriculum. Students have classes outside in the shade, learn how to cook, study the nutritional content of different foods and grow beautiful produce.

The book feels like something you could read to a group of kids, which is partly the point. Waters thinks the Edible Schoolyard model can be spread throughout the country, and inspire a whole new generation of learners and growers. For more information about the organization, go to edibleschoolyard.org.