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Can Communities Combat Climate Change?

The Edible Schoolyard Project is a non-profit organisation that was founded by chef, author and activist Alice Waters in 1995. The purpose of the project was to transform the food experience for public schools in the U.S. to help improve the health of students and their communities. Waters’ well-known restaurant, Chez Panisse, highlighted the quality of ingredients where she developed a farm-to-table approach by insisting to procure local, organically and sustainably grown ingredients. 

The Edible Schoolyard first launched as a garden and kitchen program at the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, a public school in Berkeley, California. The aim was to encourage students to participate in activities such as planting, gardening, harvesting and preparing dishes from the fresh food harvested in the garden as part of their curriculum. With the Edible Schoolyard Project, Waters emphasized the need for children to consume more fruits, vegetables or ingredients with high nutritional values in order to keep their bodies and minds nourished and stimulated. She refers to this transformation as a delicious revolution. It is important for children and adolescents of the future generation to have a better understanding and consciousness for food, their health and most importantly, the environment. 


“The best way for all of us to address climate [change] is to educate our children and feed them the best possible food and teach them the values they need to live on this planet, would be to give them free sustainable school lunch.” – Alice Waters


Waters believes that the younger generation have become sensorially deprived because of the fast-food culture that has dramatically grown in the last two decades. 

The Edible Schoolyard New York City (NYC) is among several hundreds of public schools that delivers a garden and kitchen program using a grassroots approach to food education as part of their academic curriculum. Their approach is to address health inequalities among communities of colour and low-income communities, specifically areas identified to have the highest rates of diet-related diseases (e.g. East Harlem, the Bronx, Brooklyn). The prevalence of childhood obesity in the U.S. is worsening with over 40% of New York City public school children being obese or overweight and nearly one in four children in NYC is food insecure. 


 “There are students who have no food in the fridge at home and they rely 100% on school lunches for the nutrients they need to receive throughout the day.” – Executive Director at The Edible Schoolyard Project 

elevated shot of several people browsing the garden at the Edible Schoolyard

The programs and curriculum delivered exposes the children to the experiences and fostering knowledge of food and the food production system by learning how to grow and harvest them up to the process of preparing the dishes. This also widens their food palettes by increasing their willingness to try foods that are highly nutritious and improve their eating habits towards foods with health benefits. 



Although food is the centre of the Edible Schoolyard program, Waters showed the intersection between food, wellness, education and sustainability.  The programs and curriculum delivered are culturally responsive to students’ backgrounds while incorporating core subjects like math, science, history and art. This helps students to become more aware of their environmental impact with regards to their food and consumption of everyday objects. 


As a result of these efforts, students may also inform and influence their communities to be more conscious of environmental impacts through grassroots approaches such as buying locally sourced produce and may hope to build their commitment to environmental justice. 

young child watering produce at the Edible Schoolyard in New York City

The gardens not only serve as a food production space but it is also a green space and an outdoor classroom for the surrounding community. Once they collect the produce grown from the garden, they would create dishes using a variety of spices and ingredients while also learning about the origins of the dish or the health benefits of those ingredients. When the dishes are prepared, the students and staff would collectively sit together around a table and share the meal to provide and emphasize that sense of community many children are deprived of. Some of their activities include food distribution through setting up farm stands to sell the seasonal fresh produce grown in the garden for the communities in the surrounding area. They also have family and community events allowing the students to show their families what they have learnt and apply it in their own home kitchen. 


How does this initiative reflect upon progress towards achieving SDGs? Waters has created a holistic approach in helping to alleviate social issues concerning hunger, health, education as well as communities. By encouraging children and school communities to support local farmers, ranchers or fishermen using sustainable practices in growing organic and fresh ingredients. In light of climate change, this project shows how important it is for us to understand the food production system and what we consume. People are more inclined to buy pre-packaged fruits and vegetables in the supermarket without being conscious of the environmental impacts from the process of food production. 


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