By Geoffrey Taylor, MA
In a deeply agricultural region like Kern County, there is a distinctive disconnect between many city dwelling students and the farms that lie beyond their city limits. Connecting that gap is the Edible Schoolyard Kern County.
It all started in 2011 with a vision to create a program that directly engaged the health and wellness needs of Kern County students, and it’s grown into something so much greater. Modeled after the original Edible Schoolyard site, located at King Middle School in Berkeley, California, our local Edible Schoolyard Kern County began as a collaborative effort between the Grimm Family Education Foundation and Panama-Buena Vista Union School District, located across from Buena Vista Elementary School in Southwest Bakersfield. It grew to include two additional sites located at the Grimmway Academy in Arvin and Shafter.
“The Edible Schoolyard Kern County provides the perfect environment for students to develop a positive relationship with food,” said Dylan Wilson, Program Manager for the Edible Schoolyard Kern County, “Our programs bring students and families into learning gardens and kitchens in the middle of their communities, in the middle of Kern County where farms are producing for the world. Within this landscape, they are connected to the heritage of the region and leave their lessons with a stronger appreciation and honor of Kern County, it’s history and the possibilities.”
With a robust garden operation complemented beautifully by the kitchen classroom environment, the Edible Schoolyard Kern County truly embodies the essence of farm-to-fork education. Each garden site is a minimum of 0.5 acres and grows seasonal vegetables throughout an annual rotation which students then harvest and prepare in the kitchen classrooms. Funded and administered by the Grimm Family Education Foundation, the ESY as it is often called, is a place for dreams to manifest themselves into reality.
“Kern County ranks 53 out of 58 counties in overall wellness in California, yet Kern is one of the highest producing agrarian areas on the planet. With the seasonal backdrop of the many crops grown in Kern County, it’s the perfect place for agriculture related organizations to plant a stake for food security,” said Wilson. “The mission of the Edible Schoolyard Kern County is to do just that, to teach residents how seasonal, nutritious food can be delicious and easy to prepare and to begin to become advocates for access and affordability.”
The Edible Schoolyard engages the community beyond their school-specific sites through the use of a Mobile Kitchen Classroom and community events intended to create greater access for the general public. It promotes involvement with the mission and vision of expanding food security and nutrition education through innovative approaches.
“Our curriculum, aligned with Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards allows us to bring classroom lessons to life through tactile experiences in the kitchen and garden, affirming things like the negative impact of sugar and empty calories on good health,” said Wilson, expanding on the community impact of the program. “Studies have shown that children influence the buying and eating habits of their families, and how often they cook and eat together during the week.”
This sentiment carries over into the day-to-day functions of the Edible Schoolyard in the classroom. With a full staff of Garden Teachers and Kitchen Teachers at each site, students have unprecedented access to passionate educators who love sharing their specific content area with all their students.
“Our Edible Schoolyard mission is to foster healthy relationships with food and the idea that what we put into our body is going to affect how we feel. So, the fact that it’s a part of every grade level’s regular routine has an impact on the entire school culture,” said Molly Sowers, Lead Kitchen Educator at Grimmway Academy Shafter. “My personal mission with the Edible Schoolyard, particularly in the kitchen, is to provide a platform for showcasing diversity. I love that we have the ability to broaden our student’s scope of the world through food.”
The Edible Schoolyard program is more than an agricultural and nutrition education program, it serves to reconnect children and their families to the rich agricultural heritage of our region and provide early exposure to not only healthy eating, but toward potential career pathways later in life.
As programs like these have a lasting impact on the social and educational fabric of a community, they bring immense learning opportunities to the communities they serve. For example, the Bakersfield City School District is working hand-in-hand with the Edible Schoolyard Kern County to expand their pilot program at McKinley Elementary School in Bakersfield, the McKinley Agricultural Academy, to 20 campuses across the district over the next five years.
“BCSD recognizes the importance of edible education blended with common core and new science, seeing it as a platform to transform the lives of students from the inside out and to enhance academic performance,” said Wilson.
Beyond the Buena Vista Elementary site, the Grimmway Academy schools and the efforts with BCSD, the Edible Schoolyard Kern County works with organizations across the county through farmers markets, community outreach events, and in-classroom settings. You can find the Edible Schoolyard working closely with organizations like Shafter Learning Center, The Boys and Girls Club of Bakersfield, and Kaiser Permanente Farmers Markets where they bring valuable experiential learning experiences to the widest possible audience.
“The Edible Schoolyard Kern County is on a journey, one to share with the region and through partnerships to broaden understanding of seasonal, fresh eating and the connections to healthy lives. Our future is guided by the following objectives and we welcome opportunities to engage with community partners,” Wilson stated enthusiastically, “We are not in this alone.”