October 26, 2010

Brooklyn's Edible Schoolyard

Design for P.S. 216's greenhouse, by Work AC - Greenhouse is retracted during Summer

One Brooklyn public school will soon be able to grow its own food, well protected from rain, wind, snow, and even the rare hail storm. A new greenhouse and classroom at Public School 216, designed by award-winning New York City firm Work AC, is the newest
manifestation of The Edible Schoolyard (ESY), a program of the Chez Panisse Foundation, which itself is a non-profit organization founded by chef and author Alice Waters.

GrowingCities was lucky to hear Dan Wood of Work AC speak about the project last month at Farm City Forum, an urban agriculture forum to which we were invited to speak alongside a great group of other architects, artists, planners, and farmers, including Mr. Wood. The Edible Schoolyard was established in Berkley, California in 1995, with nothing more than a cover crop in a vacant lot, with once-monthly student participation. More than a decade later, the Berkley site is a thriving acre of vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers, and each student (at the middle school) attends between 12 and 30 sessions in the kitchen and garden classrooms, depending on grade level.

Greenhouse in use during winter

The visibility of The Edible Schoolyard project has also increased over the past several years, and currently the Berkley program hosts over 1,000 visitors each year -- from educators, to health professionals, to international delegates. In 2005, the first affiliate Edible Schoolyard launched in New Orleans, and today, a network of ESY programs is growing across the county. The mission of The Edible Schoolyard is to create and sustain an organic schoolyard garden and landscape that is wholly integrated into the school’s curriculum, culture, and food program. ESY involves students in all aspects of farming the garden and preparing, serving, and eating food as a means of awakening their senses and encouraging awareness for and appreciation of the transformative values of nourishment, community, and stewardship of the land.

P.S. 216's food revolution began when school principle Celia Kaplinsky visited the Berkley ESY program a few years ago to see if it could perhaps work in Brooklyn. The beautiful rows of luscious tomatoes and crisp cucumbers were only a teaser for the real treat. It was the astonishing manner in which the children worked together in the kitchen to prepare the food that they had watched grow for weeks, and the way that they spoke about it as they ate their own hard work. “They were listening to one another, which unfortunately people don’t often do anymore,” she said. “It was so meaningful!” More than anything else, it was the garden's ability to bring people together through a deeper connection to their food source that sealed the decision to bring the program to Brooklyn.

Inside the Kitchen Classroom

Schoolyard gardens are not actually a new thing - there are already 285 in New York City - but most are quite small and rely entirely on volunteer participation from parents and teachers. Brooklyn's Edible Schoolyard is part of a new wave of schoolyard gardens that are funded by large city grants, bigger in size, and more ambitious in agenda. One of the goals of the The Edible Schoolyard project is to pursue a solution to childhood obesity through the integration of food growing, food preparation, and healthy eating into the curriculum. This is no small task, yet a recent study by UC Berkley doctors found that the Berkeley Edible Schoolyard is making headway toward that goal.

Section drawings showing Summer and Winter configurations for greenhouse

Work AC's design for the schoolyard is a series of interlinked sustainable systems that produce energy and heat, collect rainwater, process compost, and sort waste with an off-grid infrastructure. At the heart of the project is the Kitchen Classroom, where up to thirty students can prepare and enjoy meals together. Connected to one side is the Mobile Greenhouse, which extends the growing season by covering 1600 square feet of soil in the colder months and sliding away in the spring (covering the Kitchen Classroom). The design of the kitchen’s butterfly-shaped roof enhances rain water collection for reuse in the garden. On the other side of the lot is the Systems Wall, a series of spaces that include a cistern for composting and waste-sorting, solar batteries, dishwashing facilities, a tool shed, and a chicken coop.

Plan drawing of Systems Wall

The New York program will employ four full-time farmer-educators to manage the agriculture, develop teaching strategies, work with students, and start smaller satellite gardens at 25 other Brooklyn schools. The construction cost of $2,000,000 is financed through grants from the City Council and the Brooklyn borough president, and the annual cost to run the program of $400,000 will come from the organization's own fund-raising campaign.

Fourth graders, their shoes muddy, already planted the first apple trees and shoots of kale a couple weeks ago. By next year, they will have a retractable greenhouse to work with and a promising educational program fully underway. It is hard not to be impressed with this inspiring example of public good. Over the past few years, hundreds of people have come together to make this project happen for their children and for humanity overall (and not without strong financial support from the City Council and other New York politicians). Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of Edible Schoolyards is the immediate reward. Having planted their first crops two weeks ago, students will be picking their own salad greens in a few more weeks, and in a couple years they'll be snatching snacks from the apple tree during recess.

Check out our next article: Western Queens Compost Initiative
Check out our previous article: A Real Greenhouse (House)

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