Earth's Bounty: Edible Schoolyards

In some schools, raking soil and raising vegetables have been added to the traditional three Rs of learning. The Allegheny Front's Jennifer Szweda Jordan stopped in to see one schoolyard garden. Her report's part of our Earth's Bounty series on food and the environment. Volunteer Nicole Henninger contributed to this story.

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JORDAN: On a fall afternoon, uniformed elementary school students scamper up to a garden of raised beds and crushed stone pathways outside a school in Pittsburgh. Josh Burnett snaps a yellow nasturtium
blossom off a viny plant. He dramatically waves his arm, like a magician. Then he raises his hand to his mouth.

BURNETT: Watch what I'm going to do with this flower...
KID: Eat it.

JORDAN: The kids have mixed reactions when Burnett, who the kids call Farmer Josh, asks them to follow suit with the taste test.

KIDS: He ate it. Ewww. It's hot. These are bomb.

JORDAN: Besides nasturtiums, jalapeno plants, sunflowers, and marigolds grow here. Burnett's trying to teach fourth graders at Helen S. Faison elementary school not to be afraid of vegetables and other plants in the school's garden. Burnett says that despite early skepticism.

BURNETT: There's certainly an attitude shift as to 'Wow, I can actually eat this, and this hasn't been sprayed with anything, I could just eat it without washing it.' There is a change in people's attitude about dirt, about green things, even about working out in the sun.

JORDAN: The urban farming organization Grow Pittsburgh created the garden last year at Faison, along with one at another Pittsburgh school. They got several thousand dollars from foundations to plan, build, and staff the gardens. At the Faison school, and at others in the region, gardens are being used to teach lessons in art, agriculture and more.

SMITH: This wasn't about just growing a vegetable. It's about a science classroom that comes to life for you outside.

JORDAN: Principal Yvona Smith says science teachers have told her some children believed vegetables originated at grocery stores. She sees the garden as a way to set THAT notion straight.

SMITH: It brought meaning to a curriculum was kind of flat and all of a sudden it put it into a context. And then with this type of garden, it put fruits and vegetables into a completely different type of context.
This is how it once was. This is how people sustain themselves.

JORDAN: There are hundreds of schoolyard gardens of all types in the country. For example, in the Bald Eagle Area School District, in Centre County, Pennsylvania, the food service director and wellness coordinator planted fruit trees in May. The orchard should start
yielding apples, plums and cherries for the high school next year.

Garden classrooms are not an entirely new movement. Books from the 1900s mention gardens at schools. But the mother of all modern schoolyard gardens is in Berkeley, California. That's where well-known chef Alice Waters helped develop what's known as the Edible Schoolyard. Foods from this schoolyard are planted, harvested, and prepared in the cafeteria by students. In Pittsburgh, the existing gardens may follow the model of the Edible Schoolyard.

JORDAN AND SMITH: Do you ever think there is a time, I don't know how big the garden can get here, that the garden can actually help supply, say, the cafeteria?

Well, I think that's the end result, to take it from now, you know we've worked through the science of the activities but now you're looking at a whole other area of content. How do fruits and vegetables impact our bodies? Well, that's a health lesson. And then to actually look at it in terms of life skills. How do you prepare fruits and vegetables to eat? How do you cook?


JORDAN: Back in the garden, Burnett turns over the soil. Pittsburgh's had its first frost, but Faison's Edible Garden's still growing. The corn and bean plants have now been replaced with winter rye to keep the soil intact for next year's growing season and another crop of students.

For The Allegheny Front, this is Jennifer Szweda Jordan.