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Organic Food Will Become Part of School Curriculum in California District

Food joins academic menu in Berkeley school district Pioneering pilot project will revamp core curriculum
By Kim Severson, San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer

August 29, 2004

Alice Waters is so confident about the power of good food, she regularly
offers this challenge: "Give me any kid. In six weeks, they'll be eating

In July, Waters got 10,000 kids. She persuaded the Berkeley Unified School
District to offer academic credit for lunch.

The proposal, which the founder of Berkeley's pioneering Chez Panisse
restaurant has backed with a $3.8 million startup grant from her foundation,
is the first of its kind in the nation. If Waters is right, the approach not
only will teach children to love Swiss chard, but also could revolutionize
the relationship between schools and food.

Over the course of the next two years, Berkeley educators will write a
curriculum in which measuring a garden plot might become a math lesson. Kids
could learn science by seeing how molecules expand to make a loaf of bread
rise. Local, sustainable farms will supply food for school lunches, and, in
turn, students can learn economics by studying the business of sustainable

And every school day, children will be taught the value of cooking a meal
and eating it together.

"This is not just changing the food in the cafeteria and making that an
educational experience. This is for every single child. It's a core
curriculum," said Waters, who trained as a Montessori teacher before she
opened Chez Panisse in 1971.

"Instead of just fueling up so we can live our lives, food has to be part
of our lives, an enrichment of our lives that is connected to history and
culture and time and place. And that must begin at the very earliest stage,"
she said.

Radical idea

Supporters say the notion of infusing food into a school's academic
curriculum is so radical and well timed that it could be just the thing that
saves a nation in nutritional crisis.

"Lunch has been somewhat divorced from the school day," said Neal Smith,
the district's curriculum director. "Teachers have their own lunchtime, and
kids are sent off to make their own choices. Now, in light of the obesity
crisis, we're trying to reclaim that time and look at it as learning."

Detractors say the plan is just one more precious Berkeley idea that
doesn't stand a chance in a state with a shrinking pool of educational
dollars and students struggling to perform better on mandated proficiency

California's classrooms are among the most overcrowded in the nation. One
million students attend schools with bathrooms that don't work. This spring,
57 districts filed reports with the state warning they will not or may not
be able to pay their bills sometime during the next two or three years, an
outcome that would force the districts to turn control over to the state in
return for a financial bailout.

But this is Alice Waters, food visionary. The mother of California cuisine.
The woman who came this close to talking former President Bill Clinton into
establishing an official organic garden at the White House.

People who shop at the more than 3,000 farmers' markets in this country can
thank Waters, whose early support of locally grown, organic food led
directly to the explosion in the number of markets.

The 2000 national organic standards law was lifted almost directly from
California's own organic regulations, which were developed by farmers who
found their first showcase at Chez Panisse.

Bill Niman of Niman Ranch, the nation's premier seller of environmentally
sound, naturally raised beef and pork, sold his first sides of beef to Chez
Panisse. Now his multimillion-dollar Oakland company is selling its pork to
fast-food chains like Chipotle Mexican Grill, which is 90 percent owned by

Can it succeed?

The question is whether she can do for an entire school system what she did
for organic food and regional cooking.

Waters began the project a decade ago, when she adopted Martin Luther King
Middle School and, along with the Center for Ecoliteracy in Berkeley,
developed the Edible School Yard to turn a patch of asphalt next to the
school into a garden and a teaching tool. Since then, every school in
Berkeley has developed a garden plot. In addition, the Center for
Ecoliteracy has created Rethinking School Lunch, a how-to guide for midsize
school districts that want to start a farm-to-school program.

The proposal to infuse gardening and lunch into Berkeley's core curriculum
is an outgrowth of that early collaboration.

"I just thought it was going to provide a school food. I had no idea it
would become what it has become," said Waters. "I hadn't been inside a
school for 30 years when this all started. It's appalling what is passing
for food in schools. People need to wake up."

Some education experts say the idea of teaching schoolchildren about food
isn't all that radical.

"To me, it is a 21st century version of home economics," said Michael
Kirst, a Stanford University professor and former president of the state
school board.

Home ec, driver's ed and classes like music appreciation are usually
elective, called "add-ons" by educators. It's easier to create an add-on
than make wholesale changes to a class like English or math, Kirst said.

Challenging process

Doing what Waters wants to do -- actually integrating food into every
aspect of learning -- is much more challenging, because measurable success
is hard to track.

"How will you really know what those teachers are doing with all those
programs in food when you can't monitor it?" said Kirst. "Say I am a social
studies teacher, and you're asking me to teach the history of food, and I
want to teach the Civil War. How do you know that I did it? How do you test
for it?"

Zenobia Barlow, executive director of the Center for Ecoliteracy, has
worked with Waters from the start, and has an answer for that. "The Civil
War was fought over agriculture."

Besides, she points out, district wide curriculum rollouts aren't anything
new, and the subjects of the new curriculum -- farming and food -- are

"It's not like we're trying to teach Swahili," she said.

The bottom line is that the schools can't afford to ignore food.

"We can pretend there aren't any ramifications from our disassociation with
food, but schools are having to deal with insulin injections and obese
children every day," Barlow said. "Even the most temporary shortfall in
nutrition has profound implications in a child's ability to learn."

Waters never intended to be associated with a health project. "This project
is associated with food, and the outcome is health," she said.

Still, the nation's obesity crisis gave Waters and the Berkeley schools
advocates the opening they needed to make the proposal seem more a life raft
than a Left Coast dream.

"We have an obesity crisis, and we don't have any fundamental way to
address it except putting Band-Aids on it," Waters said. "We need to address
it fundamentally deep down, and this is an idea to do that."

Must maintain standards

The key, education experts said, will be to make sure that the components
of the new curriculum meet the state's academic content standards, which
outline what needs to be taught at each grade level. In the sixth grade, for
example, students are required to learn about thermal energy for earth
science. A lesson using the steaming of vegetables as an example could be
used to meet that requirement.

Waters is leaving those kinds of details to the educators in Berkeley, who
have been meeting this month to start writing the curriculum. The process is
a long one, beginning with small workshops examining what kind of measurable
outcomes to create. Over the course of the year, consultants will work with
interested teachers and administrators to build the framework for the new
way of teaching.

To those who say it can't be done, Waters points to physical education,
which public schools took up in the early 1900s. "We built gymnasiums. We
bought equipment for the track. We got teachers to teach it. We got uniforms
and lockers and everything else that was involved in physical education, and
kids got better for it because it was important enough to do that," she

Neither is she entertaining naysayers who worry about a lack of money.

"I won't hear that. I won't accept that, because we have to change the
paradigm on how we spend money in this country," she said. "How much do we
spend on health care? And (it's) health problems that are caused by how we

$5 million project

The money from Waters' Chez Panisse Foundation, which funds community- and
youth-oriented projects that emphasize the links between what's in the field
and what's on the plate, is only a start. More money will be needed to take
the program from a pilot beginning in three schools in 2006 to a
comprehensive district wide curriculum. Barlow estimates it will take an
additional $5 million to get the new curriculum into all the Berkeley

Already, backers of a new obesity center planned at Children's Hospital and
Research Center at Oakland have signed on in an effort to attract grants
from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and federal agencies.
Dr. Janet King, director of nutrition at the hospital and head of the
committee of scientists who just finished writing the 2005 Dietary
Guidelines for Americans, is heading the project.

Then there is that other little hurdle -- getting the kids to actually eat
healthy food.

Waters just falls back on her chard challenge.

"Something changes when children participate in the ritual of eating, the
ritual of the land," she said. "Food that is economical and nutritious and
delicious also gives another outcome, which is a nurtured human being."

©2004 San Francisco Chronicle