Edible Schoolyard New Orleans: Growing A Love of Food

Edible Schoolyard New Orleans: Growing A Love Of Food

Wed 19 Feb 2014

Story by Chef Katie Bingham and Alisha Johnson

Article originally posted in the The Local Palate magazine.

Ms. Baylor’s sixth grade girls know the drill. Excited and chattering, they head straight for the bright blue aprons embroidered with the Edible Schoolyard New Orleans fleur de lis - eggplant logo, and then the handwashing sink. One group flows past the open flame burners, pulling items out of the massive Viking refrigerator for their soon-beautiful spread of herbed cream cheese veggie wraps, with a citrus spritzer of sour oranges, lemons and soda water. Another group works with garden teachers to create bouquets for the large table covered with colorful oilcloth by a third group. Seated around the table, the sixth-graders discuss the herbs from Samuel J. Green’s Edible Garden that went into the cheese spread. Garden and kitchen fluency? You bet.

When Edible Schoolyard New Orleans (ESYNOLA) opened its first teaching kitchen at Green in 2009, these girls were only in third grade, wearing much smaller aprons and just learning to cook the food they were harvesting from the one-third-acre school garden they planted as first-graders.

Now ESYNOLA manages five schoolyard gardens, including Green’s, which has raised beds and production rows, a butterfly meadow and Louisiana wetlands area, a citrus grove and the outdoor classroom, where children gather for an opening circle activity before engaging in their hands-on garden-science lessons. Langston Hughes Academy’s Dreamkeeper garden is expanding acreage this year to double the amount of produce available to families while increasing the number of science-based garden classes offered to students. At Arthur Ashe Charter School, a one-acre production garden is being built by students, parents, teachers and neighbors. John Dibert Community School and Joseph S. Clark Preparatory High School have small, beautiful decorative and edible beds on their campuses as well.

Two teaching kitchens at Green and Ashe provide culinary learning labs where hundreds of K - 8th grade sous chefs learn to cook locally and seasonally, from their schoolyard gardens.

“We find that if they grow it, and cook it they will eat it,” said Claudia Barker, Executive Director. “Our approach is sensory, giving students the hands-on experience of growing food and preparing it.”

Weekly, one might find Kindergarteners sounding out and tracing the letter “L” while sampling lentils, lemons, and leeks. In ESYNOLA’s Food ABCs program, the love of food starts.

“Our kitchen classes are highly academic", said Rahn Broady, Program Manager. “Developing their palates, learning their alphabet, making comparisons, our Kindergarteners use all of their senses to build upon prior knowledge and become more informed little people.”

Ashe’s third grade cooking class compared Thai and New Orleans food traditions this Fall, and fifth graders considered food access and sustainability by tallying and comparing the mileage traveled by ingredients on locally- versus nationally-sourced pizzas. Beyond the traditional classroom each grade level has an "edible experience," such as the eighth-grade fieldtrip to Grow Dat Youth Farm.

The most coveted “edible experience” is the Seventh-grade Iron Chef Competition, where local chefs pair up with groups of seventh graders for a culinary face-off in the outdoor kitchen stadium. This year, with one secret ingredient (apples) and one hour, the seventh graders prepared Kale Salad with Apples and Spiced Pecans, Tacos with Apple Salsa, and the winning dish: Veggie Burger with Goat Cheese on a Apple Parmesan Bun!

ESYNOLA has transferred food knowledge through interactive activities since 2006. The first replication of food activist Chef Alice Waters’ visionary garden-based food education program in Berkeley, CA, ESYNOLA has developed into a homegrown, locally-driven program serving 2,500 students across five open-admissions public charter schools run by FirstLine Schools.

And ESYNOLA doesn’t stop with kids. Parents enjoy Family Food Nights, where they learn to cook and share healthy meals together with their children. In collaboration with Share Our Strength’s Cooking Matters and Shopping Matters programs, Chef April Neujean, creator of ESYNOLA’s kitchen curriculum, leads parent cooking classes and shopping tours that support more nutritious food purchases within the family budget. Families enjoy free access to schoolyard produce as part of an open garden policy.

“My mama stops by the garden to pick vegetables before she goes to the grocery store,” one third grader said.

ESYNOLA garden and chef educators rotate homeroom classes at Green, Ashe and Hughes, through experiential activities that are tied closely to Louisiana academic Standards and Benchmarks. Some students who struggle in the traditional classroom find that the garden and kitchen are their “time to shine.” “Edible” educators are rock stars: children on the playground chant their names as they walk by and grab a quick hug or high-five in the café. ESYNOLA’s mission to change the way children eat, learn and live at FirstLine Schools, inspires a love for good food that helps them succeed in school and in life.

About the authors: Alisha Johnson supports strategic fundraising and communications for Edible Schoolyard New Orleans as development manager. Born and raised during a generation of New Orleanians who thought potatoes grew scrubbed and shrink-wrapped, she enjoys watching Kindergarteners plant, harvest, wash and cook fresh food at school, and appreciates teachers who help children value good food and the people who bring it to our tables.
Katie Bingham Pedroza earned her culinary arts degree at the University of Akron, and is currently a senior lead chef educator at Samuel J. Green Charter School for Edible Schoolyard New Orleans. She enjoys getting kids to taste and LOVE brussels sprouts. Katie is a featured chef at Hollygrove Market and Farm and the New Orleans Rethinkers. She also manages one of the local food demonstration stages at Jazz Fest. She works tirelessly to fund her family's small batch bacon addiction.

Article credit: The Local Palate magazine


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