Edible Schoolyard 101, by Erika Dimmler
Erika Dimmler is the project manager for Edible Sac High. She is also a FUSE Corps fellow working with the Office of Mayor Kevin Johnson and Greenwise Joint Venture.
What if 50+ teenagers showed up for class, and when the bell rang at the end of the school day they clamored for a shovel, just so they could dig trenches in the ground for what would become the largest solarization project in the city of Sacramento?
This scene runs contrary to everything you think about high school students – about what motivates them, inspires them, and moves them to action. But it happened!
It all began seven months earlier with a deliciously healthy lunch in the home of a Sacramento resident who thought she could make an unconventional but impactful difference. At the table sat Mayor Kevin Johnson and Alice Waters, author and one of America’s most influential chefs, as well as other community leaders who know that the personal well-being and health through both fitness and good nutrition are intimately linked with academic achievement and excellence in school.
What was the core message that day? We can do better when our thinking broadens. Test scores matter and college admissions are lofty objectives to pursue. But all of us also need to have a firm understanding of the environmental surroundings we belong to if we are to have any hope of maximizing our impact in the world at large. And we can start this journey by examining our relationship with food.
The Community Alliance for Global Justice defines food justice as "the right of communities everywhere to produce, distribute, access and eat good food regardless of race, class, gender, ethnicity…" Mayor Johnson knows this first-hand, growing up in Sacramento. He was one of the blessed ones, fortunate to have grandparents who made sure he ate a healthy meal at home every day – prepared from ingredients like peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers, that came from their backyard garden. The Mayor is passionate about imparting these important lessons throughout the city that he’s committed to making a healthier place to live.
So here it is, in more or less chronological order. Set your objectives. Aim high. Dream big. Make the decision to create not only a garden, but also a nutritional kitchen classroom. Consider curriculum integration. There are numerous ways to use the garden and nutritional classroom to expand on lessons in history, science, sociology, and English literature.
Don’t forget to excite the students. It’s much easier than you think; they’ll get it and embrace it with passion and enthusiasm. Enlist your teachers. Engage your school administration. They understand the vital link between good nutrition and strong academic performance. Apply for any and all grants. And of course, hire a gardener, the best living advocate of your mission.
Start imagining how your cafeteria will be transformed. Ask yourself "how beautiful and impactful can this be?" Engage your food service provider in this endeavor, and ask for suggestions on their ideas for transformation. The possibilities are endless. Establish and nourish your community partnerships. Edible Sac High’s mission is greatly enhanced because of the participation of Sacramento City Unified School District’s superintendent, Jonathan Raymond. SCUSD has taken the lead in our region with their Healthy Foods Task Force, co-founded by Julie Raymond and school board member Patrick Kennedy. They are already setting the standard and transforming the way students in Sacramento are consuming food, going from just three to 83 salad bars in just two years. Their plans are bold and ambitious.
Finally, the vision born out of the partnership between Mayor Johnson and Alice Waters is about more than just social justice. It’s about promoting and enhancing commerce by creating a demand for local farmers, and keeping their food in our region and close to our dinner tables. Edible Sac High falls under Greenwise Joint Venture, the mayor’s environmental initiative focused on transforming the Sacramento area into the Emerald Valley – the greenest region in the country and a hub for clean technology. Good nutrition connects us all.
Of all the food grown in the Sacramento region, 98 percent is exported. Programs like this one have the power to transform that statistic, which brings us back to our trench dig and the amazing motivation and engagement of Sacramento Charter High School students.
It was a hot day outside, but they came. School was out for the day, but they came. The majority of these students had never worked in a garden before, but they came. As Sac High junior Aryanna Lewis put it, "To see so many people dedicated and excited about what is going to happen here makes me want to keep on working, to create a garden for future generations of Sac High.” Senior Darius Dobbins added, “When you think about the garden, and everything we’ve been through, it’s all so much more than we can imagine. And it’s actually happening right now.”
Yes it is. We are in this together!
VIDEO: Day one at Edible Sac High
Originally published on Edible Sac High website