WhyHunger visits the Edible Schoolyard in New Orleans.
By Tristan Quinn-Thibodeau
The WhyHunger team arrived in New Orleans in October, 2010, for the 14th annual Community Food Security Coalition Conference, and the first thing we did after we got off the plane was to visit The Edible Schoolyard New Orleans (ESY NOLA) at Samuel J. Green Charter School. The Edible Schoolyard is a program started by Alice Waters and the Chez Panisse Foundation in Berkeley, CA, which was replicated in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit the city in 2005. Besides Samuel J. Green, ESY NOLA is in one other school in New Orleans.
At Samuel J. Green, ESY NOLA integrates “hands-on organic gardening and seasonal cooking into the school learning experience, culture, and food programs” by involving “students in all aspects of growing.” The school has an enormous and beautiful 1/3 acre organic teaching garden where the students, ranging from kindergartners to 8th graders, take care of the many plants in the garden and learn about composting and nature. Everyone we spoke with talked about the impact of the garden on the learning abilities of the students. Before Samuel J. Green became a charter and before ESY NOLA arrived, the school was notorious for its failure. But with a revamped mission, a new building, and the garden curriculum, teachers, staff, and administrators all say that the culture of the school has changed to instill values and norms of success and that the ESY NOLA work engages the students in their learning. Samuel J. Green has open admissions, with 90% of students coming from families that are below the poverty line, and Samuel J. Green buses students to the school to make sure they are there on time. But the teaching garden is not all there is to ESY NOLA.
Students are also taught to cook complex meals that looked delicious to us (we were able to sit in on a cooking class), and their cafeteria offers food that is “wholesome, nutritious, and delicious”. We asked whether the food served in the cafeteria comes from the garden but were told that making the garden into a production operation would put too much pressure on kids, turning them into workers rather than students. Besides, the staff replied, they’d prefer to support regional farmers and are advocates of a farm-to-cafeteria model. The food they grow does, however, get used in the cooking classes (and the scraps returned to the garden via the compost pile)!
What was perhaps the most impressive and sweet aspect of ESY NOLA and Samuel J. Green was that every lunch table was round with a centerpiece of flowers, a pitcher of water and cups, and a laminated reminder about table manners. We talked with Donna Cavato, the Executive Director of ESY NOLA, who even told us it was their goal to have an adult at every lunch table and that they were thinking of recruiting parent volunteers to lead lunch. I can remember school lunches when I was a kid as boisterous, unsupervised, and even potentially anti-social. By not only emphasizing health or learning but also emphasizing eating the right way—healthy meals eaten as a community–ESY NOLA even makes lunch, usually an activity lumped in with recess, a time for learning.
For more, check out our video tour of the Edible Schoolyard…