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Turning Asphalt Into Edible Education

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When Celia Kaplinsky, a Brooklyn elementary school principal, visited a schoolyard garden project  in Berkeley, Calif. a few years ago to see if it could work back home, something impressed her more than the lush rows of tomatoes and cucumbers.

It was the respectful way, she said, that the children worked together in the kitchen to prepare the food they had just helped grow, and the way that they spoke to one another as they sat down together to eat it.

"They were listening to one another, which unfortunately people don't often do anymore," she said. "It was so meaningful."

It was the garden's ability to apparently change the way the children related to food that won her over. Meanwhile, Alice Waters, the famed chef of the Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse, who had founded the garden, decided Ms. Kaplinsky had the enthusiasm to make the project happen in New York.

So the two stood together Friday at the official opening of Ms. Waters's first school garden project in New York City and one of its most ambitious school gardens yet - a half-acre stretch of spongy organic soil behind Public School 216 in Gravesend, Brooklyn, that until a few months ago was a blank stretch of asphalt.

There are already 285 school gardens in New York City, according to a recent state survey, part of a national school gardening trend. Most are small affairs, completely reliant on parent volunteers and teachers' spare time, said Erica Keberle of Grow NYC, which coordinates school gardening projects around the city.

The P.S. 216 project, known as an Edible Schoolyard, is part of a second generation of gardens, which involve things like state-of-the art greenhouses, professional staff, large city grants, and ever-more-ambitious agendas. Ms. Waters's project, for example, aims to find a solution to childhood obesity by integrating the lessons of food growing, food preparation and healthy eating through the curriculum. A recent study found that her projects in Berkeley had made headway toward that goal. 


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