Alice Waters: A Garden At Every School

Seventeen years ago, Alice Waters took a closer look at the neglected schoolyard she passed every day in Berkeley, California. In an interview in the local newspaper, she remarked that it looked like no one cared about it. The school’s principal, Neil Smith, read these words about Martin Luther King Middle School, and picked up the phone to ask the well-known chef for help. The two met on the school’s blighted and overgrown acre of land and envisioned a space where a garden and teaching kitchen could grow. Math teachers could make fractions come alive in a kitchen; humanities teachers could share lessons about ancient civilizations over rows of heirloom grains.

Fast forward to 2014: Martin Luther King Middle School’s gardens are lush and productive, the teaching kitchen is a warm and vibrant space, interest in fresh, healthy school lunches is growing, and the number of school gardens across the US has grown from a small handful to almost 40,000 strong, offering countless children the opportunity to know where real food comes from and to understand the challenges involved in producing it.

Several weeks ago, Alice Waters, who serves on SFC’s advisory council, came to visit our JP’s Peace, Love and Happiness teaching garden and The Happy Kitchen in our new building. We sat in a circle in our teaching kitchen and Alice graciously answered questions about her continued work across the country encouraging schools to incorporate healthy food systems activities into their everyday curriculum and cafeterias, giving youth the opportunity to grow and prepare healthy, seasonal, local vegetables. Then, we headed outdoors to explore the teaching garden, which will host groups of students on field trips and provide opportunities for fun, educational activities outdoors–from hands-on lessons in our themed gardens to observations of buzzing bees, children will learn about where food comes from. Alice shared stories of the benefits of school gardens and how they strengthen both schools and whole communities.

Read on for seven reasons every school should have a garden! Ready to start or support a garden at your school? SFC offers resources, training, and education to start and sustain a school garden through our Spread the Harvest program, School Garden Leadership Trainings, gardening classes, and school garden curriculum. See our School Gardens page for more information!

  • Gardening offers hands-on, experiential learning opportunities in a wide array of disciplines, including the natural and social sciences, math, language arts, visual arts, and nutrition.
  • Gardens promote environmental stewardship at an early age.
  • Spending time outdoors deepens a healthy connection with nature.
  • Caring for a garden means lots of fresh air and exercise – something we could all use!
  • Growing your own fruits and vegetables increases access to healthy, affordable food.
  • School gardens offer a connection to the community and history.
  • Tasting, touching, smelling, seeing…yes, even hearing can happen outdoors in the garden.