Edible Schoolyard seed planted
First graders at Helen Faison Arts Academy in Homewood take a tour of their school's garden yesterday.
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Organic food pioneer Alice Waters has been in talks with Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Mark Roosevelt about bringing her fabled Edible Schoolyard to a city elementary school, Mr. Roosevelt said yesterday.
If all goes according to plan, Pittsburgh would be the third city, after Berkeley, Calif., and New Orleans, to have an Edible Schoolyard -- a multimillion-dollar project carefully designed by Ms. Waters and funded with private dollars. Under the program, urban public school students learn how, literally, to grow their own lunch by planting, harvesting and preparing nutritional produce in a state-of-the-art school kitchen.
Not only does the Edible Schoolyard teach students where their food comes from, it's used as a teaching tool in school science, nutrition and social studies classes, said Carina Wong, executive director of the Berkeley-based Chez Panisse Foundation, which administers the program. It also sparks schools to rethink their own lunch programs, which increasingly have been criticized by parents and health care experts as unhealthy and unappetizing.
Ms. Waters, who founded Berkeley's famed Chez Panisse Restaurant in 1971, triggered a nationwide movement in the 1970s and 1980s toward eating locally grown seasonal and organic foods. She flew to Pittsburgh to meet with Mr. Roosevelt in June to discuss the plan, which would involve a pilot project at one school, still to be named.
"We had a good meeting and agreed in general terms that we would do a project together. I am enthusiastic about making it happen," Mr. Roosevelt said.
"We're always looking for other places to expand across the country," said Ms. Wong. "It's important to see that the Edible Schoolyard is not just about Berkeley but can be created everywhere, with enough commitment from the schools. There seems to be a real enthusiasm in Pittsburgh among both funders and the community for this," she added.
The Edible Schoolyard will take some time to get started here if it goes forward as planned.
Ms. Waters is famously exact about her specifications, which require the best materials, inside and out. The award-winning design for the Edible Schoolyard kitchen at Berkeley's Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, which was built in 1994 and restored after a 2001 earthquake, features redwood drawers, shelves, and cabinets crafted from recycled old growth wood, handcrafted worktables and craftsman counter tops.
Funding for the Pittsburgh project still needs to be obtained, although a number of foundations have privately expressed interest, said Miriam Manion, executive director of Grow Pittsburgh, a nonprofit urban agriculture organization that helped set up the meeting between Ms. Waters and Mr. Roosevelt.
In the meantime, Ms. Manion has partnered with two city school principals to create their own mini-versions of an edible schoolyard, at Helen S. Faison Elementary School in Homewood and Dilworth Elementary School in Highland Park.
Last fall, with $65,000 from The Grable Foundation, The Pittsburgh Foundation, The Heinz Endowment and The Fisher Fund, students at those schools began digging their gardens, overseen by their teachers and two Grow Pittsburgh staffers.
Each school grade planted its own raised bed, and as part of a social science class, planted vegetables from different continents. There are Peruvian potatoes in one plot (South America), melons and okra in another (Africa), heirloom rattlesnake beans in yet another (North America), said Josh Burnett, the project's farming supervisor.
Today, there are a half-dozen carefully tended raised beds of corn, peppers, beans, okra and tomatoes -- but without the state-of-the-art kitchens of Ms. Waters' version. Since Pittsburgh elementary schools don't have kitchens, students can study their food, and taste it, but they don't really get a chance to cook it every day -- yet.
"My dream, actually, is to get a mobile kitchen that can go from school to school," said Ms. Manion. "That's the next step."
For a few hours yesterday, though, Bill Fuller, executive corporate chef for the restaurant chain big Burrito Group, remedied the problem.
He brought his cooking gear and six assistants to the garden of Faison Elementary School, and under a brilliant blue sky, cooked for the students, using the corn and tomatoes and basil they had planted last fall.
Mr. Fuller, whose daughter attends first grade at Dilworth, will be preparing food for every student at both schools during the next two weeks.
At yesterday's event, marking the one-year anniversary of the pilot project, he repeatedly flipped a large pan of freshly shucked corn in butter before a fascinated group of first-graders.
"I'm sauteing the corn," he told the children. "Saute means 'jump' in French. Why do you think it's called that?"
"Because the corn is jumping!" shrieked one child.
Pearline Jones-Diggs, a nearby Homewood resident, Faison volunteer and avid gardener, was on hand to support Mr. Fuller and his crew. She told of an episode just a week ago where a neighborhood child saw her picking green beans from her garden.
"He asked me, 'What are those?' And I told him, 'They're string beans. Haven't you ever seen string beans before?' And this child told me, 'But they come from Giant Eagle.' And I said, 'No they don't, they come from this vine, right here.' And he hardly believed me.
"You've got to let these kids see where fruits and veggies are grown," she added, motioning to the fence around the school garden, where she had planted raspberry bushes.
"Right now, they all think it comes from a can. How are they ever going to learn to eat right if that's all they know?"
First Published September 20, 2007 12:00 am