Promoting Professional Development and Best Practice in EE
Food for thought: The intersection of gardens, education, and community at Edible Schoolyard New Orleans
Edible schoolyard garden in New Orleans promotes students' food security, environmental knowledge, and emotional and social well-being
This article chronicles the creation and implementation of Edible Schoolyard New Orleans (ESYNOLA), a program based on the Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, California, created by Alice Waters. School staff and volunteers installed an Edible Schoolyard garden after Hurricane Katrina and after Waters donated the Edible Schoolyard name and curriculum to the Samuel L. Green Charter School in New Orleans (Green Charter). ESYNOLA was established as a non-profit organization housed at the school with its own staff, teachers, and chefs.
The researcher and author of this paper spent 10 weeks as an intern at the school. During this time, she conducted interviews and observations to collect information about ESYNOLA and its impact on students and the local community. Areas of interest for this study included students' food security, environmental knowledge, and emotional and social well-being because of involvement in the program. The role of the program in hurricane recovery efforts was also an area of interest.
Most (98%) of the students attending Green Charter at the time of this study were living below the poverty line, and 94% qualified for reduced lunch. Almost all (99%) of the students were African-American. Most of the students (80%) depended on the school for meeting their daily nutritional needs. This fact underscored the importance of providing healthy food to the students. The ESYNOLA program offered elective courses to all the grades in the school: Kindergarten students were introduced to one new food each week; 1st, 2nd, and 3rd grade students were offered gardening classes involving planting, harvesting, and collecting data on the gardens; 4th graders learned about wetlands and aquatic life, and were also -- along with 8th graders -- engaged in using the scientific method to collect data. All children were given the opportunity to learn to cook produce from the garden. Optional after school classes were also offered.
The project was made culturally relevant through enlisting volunteers from the community and hosting community events which were open to everyone. Community events included a Mardi Gras celebration in the garden and the performance of culturally-relevant music. ESYNOLA also increased a sense of community through intentional focus on the time students spent in the cafeteria. Flowers, water pitchers, and place cards at each table created a shared sense of ownership and responsibility among the students. Related environmental education curriculum included experiences with new foods and a focus on plants, erosion and wetlands. As reported by teachers and other staff members at the school, the garden provided children with a productive, positive way to burn off energy. They also felt that the rules and consistent expectations relating to the garden space provided children with a sense of stability, which could be beneficial to their social and emotional well-being.