If they grow it and cook it they will eat it Part One: Students at Willard Middle School in Berkeley. Photo: Matt Tsang
Berkeley’s beloved school gardening and cooking program, where public school children plant peas, cook kale, and chase chickens–all while discovering connections to nature, science, language, math, health, nutrition and other life lessons–is in dire straits due to pending federal funding cuts.
Come October, the Berkeley Unified School District’s (BUSD) edible education efforts will lose $1.9 million of U.S. Department of Agriculture financing (administered through the Network for a Healthy California) for 14 school cooking and garden programs, from the preschool through high school level. Unless replacement income is found, such cuts would essentially gut the district program, considered a model around the country.
“BUSD schools are deeply committed to saving their garden and cooking programs and are working closely with their principals, PTAs, the school district, and the extended community to raise funds for the coming year and beyond,” says Marian Mabel, a parent at Malcolm X Elementary and member of a group called the Berkeley Schools Gardening and Cooking Alliance, which was launched last year when Malcolm X, along with two other schools, looked set to lose their federal funds. (The alliance successfully lobbied the school board for a year of bridge funding, which, ultimately, wasn’t needed when a one-year extension of federal monies was granted.)
Now, district officials, individual schools, and a core of parent volunteers are scrambling to try and save the program, which began as a community effort 15 years ago. And prominent local restaurateurs and chefs have stepped up to show their support too.
The cooking and gardening movement in Berkeley’s schools, documented in a series of short videos under the Lunch Love Community umbrella (featured in a 2011 BAB post), has received federal funds for 12 years. But recent changes in federal funding priorities and state administering of these monies, along with changing demographics in BUSD schools, has lead to a pending shift in the allocation of resources. Despite last year’s one-year reprieve from the feds, no such extension of support is expected for the next school year, given changes to U.S. government guidelines with the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.
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