Edible Schoolyards teach kids at 5 schools

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — After Hurricane Katrina, Alice Waters wanted to do a service project for New Orleans. Now, the first Edible Schoolyard at Samuel J. Green Charter School, just off Freret Street, is a lush and lovely space that just hosted the fifth annual Edible Evening fundraiser. And Green is no longer the only Edible Schoolyard in New Orleans.

Five Edible Schoolyard gardens exist on the five campuses in the FirstLine Charter School Network, all different. One has goats, rabbits and chickens, so the kids learn animal husbandry as well as gardening. One has high-tech hydroponic growing towers due to lack of space.

A garden has been in the works at Arthur Ashe Charter School's new school since August 2012, said Claudia Barker, executive editor of Edible Schoolyard New Orleans. Located on an 11-acre tract owned by the city, the K-8 school shares the tract with a NORD playground as well as a beautiful stand of live oaks.

"We have a cooperative endeavor agreement with the city that gives us an acre to plant," Barker said. Right now, they have a small culinary garden outside the school café, which includes the garden's science classroom and teaching kitchen. And a request for proposals has been issued to design and build key structures on a bigger, 43,000-square-foot space right behind the school. First up: A big greenhouse, thanks to $92,800 given by the Emeril Lagasse Foundation.

"We can do all our plant starts there for the whole network," Barker said. "We've been (growing) starter plants at Dillard University. They've been lovely, but it will be great to have it in our own backyard."

Kindergarteners don their hand-colored chef hats for their Food ABC's graduation at Arthur Ashe Charter School. Students taste foods starting with each letter of the alphabet, giving students practice in literacy and reading while also encouraging them to try new things.

The greenhouse should start in the summer, and then, in the fall, an outdoor classroom similar to the covered structure at Green, funded by $100,000 from the Ruth U. Fertel Foundation.

Even before Ashe, however, an outdoor classroom will be built at Langston Hughes Academy, a pre-K through 8th grade school, an expansion to their four-year-old Edible Schoolyard program.

"We have a full program of garden classes for the K-8 classes there. It's very popular. They have goats, chickens and rabbits at the site, so the children are learning animal husbandry as well as gardening. And, we're adding chickens at Green."

In Treme, John Dibert Community School is getting a new building across the street from the Lafitte housing development.

"Dibert doesn't have a huge amount of space to plant an in-ground garden, but we will do small productive areas of production rows. We will do a discovery and sensory garden on one side of the building for the little kids, and I've got my eye on a couple of other plots.

"The school is very excited, as Dibert always has had a history of outdoor experiences. And we're real excited. We're going to be hiring a lead garden educator for that site."

The last school has the least amount of garden programming: Joseph S. Clark Preparatory High School, on Esplanade near Claiborne Avenue.

"Since we don't have space for an in-ground garden - the football team doesn't want to give up its practice area - we've carved out a little space and are doing soilless aeroponics," Barker said, "so we're teaching kids how to grow crops vertically," similar to the growing towers atop the downtown Rouse's Supermarket. Lettuce, herbs and other crops are growing in plastic towers, in a closed loop system.

Next year, Clark is starting a workforce development track for students who want to go into IT or construction or the building trades, Barker said, to go along with its college prep track. She sees the Edible Schoolyard fitting into workforce development.

For one thing, they partner with Grow Dat Youth Farm, the leadership training garden that employees teens, located at City Park.

"This coming year, we're hoping to use some of the Grow Dat graduates to work in our edible gardens," Barker said. "Kids get the idea they can make a living doing gardening and farming, but there is also work in food justice and food access. And lots of work in the culinary field.

"I think we are raising the next generation of foodies. These kids have a very sophisticated take on food. It's amazing to hear a fifth-grader say, 'You don't know what egglant caponata is?'"


Information from: The Times-Picayune, http://www.nola.com

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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