A joint school lunch and school-garden-to-school-table project of the Berkeley Unified School District and Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Foundation has received the attention of national legislators and the country’s national museum.
During a Smithsonian Folklife Festival held in the two-week period between June 23 and July 4, the Smithsonian Institution recreated Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School’s Edible Schoolyard on an 80-by-20-foot plot on the National Mall in Washington D.C.
Legislators, including Senators Hillary Clinton of New York, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Patrick Leahy of Vermont and Barbara Boxer of California stopped by to munch on wood-fired pizza and listen to a pitch for support for the Berkeley-inspired School Lunch Initiative.
The exhibit also featured interactive work with students, demonstrating ways to grow and harvest healthy food in the way the Edible Schoolyard regularly operates in Berkeley.
“A nutritious daily lunch, integrated into classroom lesson plans for grades K-12, will be provided for all public school students in the district, from kindergarten through high school,” according to the Chez Panisse Foundation website. “Our intention is to change the lives of every public school child in Berkeley, and to provide a model for the reinvention of public school lunch nationwide.”
Waters is working now on both national and state legislation to advance that initiative in other school districts. The Washington D.C. exhibit garnered long stories in both the New York Times and the Washington Post.
Edible Schoolyard’s Program Coordinator Chelsea Chatman, who made the trip to Washington and “basically worked in the kitchen most of the time preparing food,” called the event “the right opportunity,” even though she believes it will take some time for Congressional legislative action to result.
“It’s going to take a while for these ideas to percolate,” she said. “But even during the time we were there, we could see good things beginning to happen in the D.C. schools around lunch programs.”
She said that the initial invitation to Waters came two years ago, with the focus on the Edible Schoolyard.
“The Berkeley School Lunch Initiative wasn’t as formal then as it is now,” Waters said. “We knew that we were going to the mall with the garden. But the initiative added a new piece.”
Chatman said she was impressed by the re-creation of the Edible Schoolyard on the National Mall, which Smithsonian Institution staff members had to do on top of the existing grass because federal law does not permit digging into the mall ground.
Students from three Washington area elementary schools assisted in the planting, with help given by Maine Four Seasons Farms owner Elliot Coleman, whom Chatman called “one of the east coast’s foremost experts on organic gardening.”
While the Berkeley participants brought some Bay Area seeds (“mostly beans”) with them to pass out to students, Chatman said that the exhibit received donations of plants, food, and garden materials from D.C. area groups.
Berkeley participants in the exhibit included Waters, Chatman, Edible Schoolyard Manager Kelsey Siegel, LeConte Elementary Garden Educator Ben Goff, Chez Panisse Director of Special Projects Marcia Guerrero and her assistant Jesse Benthien, and BUSD lunch consultant Ann Cooper.
Travel, food, and lodging for most of the Berkeley contingent was paid for by the Smithsonian Institution, with some funding provided by the Chez Panisse Foundation for the lobbying efforts with legislators. No funds came from the Berkeley Unified School District.›