Friday, July 07, 2006

The Edible Schoolyard

Today, I had the privilege of being a guest in a garden.

While looking for meaningful things to do with my time, I came upon an organization called Hands On Bay Area. They manage volunteer projects for over 300 community organizations. Most of the volunteer projects they plan are at night or on the weekend to cater to working folks. Normally, I would think this was a fabulous plan, making volunteering accessible to the masses. However, right now, I am primarily looking for weekday opportunities. Luckily, they have some. Earlier this week, I attended an orientation. Today, I had my first opportunity to get my hands dirty, literally. I had signed up to spend the day helping in the Edible Schoolyard, a one-acre, organic garden located on the property of the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley. The garden has been growing for the past 11 years. It is integrated into the kid's general education curriculum. A kitchen operates in conjunction with the garden.

I made it to Berkeley with no trouble in only 30 minutes, even though I left home at 8am. Since I wasn't scheduled to start work until 9, I took advantage of the beautiful weather and roamed the garden taking pictures. In the early morning sunshine, it was truly a spectacular setting. By 9, the other volunteers had arrived. It was fun meeting new people who are committed to doing positive things. We had introductions, a tour and met the 7th and 8th grade kids who were there for a four-week summer program. Then they gave us some gloves, a spade and put us to work. I was asked to weed around some olive trees and around patches of lavender. My favorite part was digging out big roots on huge weeds that had been there quite awhile. The people leading us were incredibly complimentary of the work we were doing. One lady called it the "project of the year" because she didn't think it had been done in a year.

We were given a couple of nice breaks. Our morning snack consisted of plums and water. I missed the plums because I was talking to a visiting farmer from Carbondale, Illinois. ("You are a flat-lander too, he said.") His wife is living, for the next six months, as an apprentice at Green Gulch Farm in Marin, a "Buddhist Practice and Zen Meditation Center" that somehow incorporates a farm. Their website talks about their effort to "awaken the spirit of kindness and realistic helpfulness." I'm down with that idea.

When it was time to break for lunch, we were served a wonderful meal made from items grown in the garden. It included a bountiful salad with fresh greens and quite an array of chopped vegetables, polenta, roasted beets and a warm dish of "greens" including kale and white beans. Everything was really tasty. We sat with the kids who were there for the program. They had prepared the meal. The guys I was sitting with were especially proud of the salad dressing they had whipped up from scratch.

My hands did become fatigued from pulling weeds and I can feel the work my feet did too, but I was nourished and nurtured in many ways. One woman who comes there regularly said it "makes her heart feel at home." That seems like an appropriate sentiment. I made new friends. Heard about a nearby place, Blue Waters Kayaking, where we can rent sea kayaks and even kayak to a campground. I heard about an intriguing way of roasting brussel sprouts. Another volunteer said, she halves them, drizzles them with honey and orange juice, tosses them with almonds then roasts. She told one of the kids it makes them "taste like candy." Cam's not convinced but I'd like to give it a try.

All in all it was a very meaningful, rewarding and worthwhile way to spend a day.


Carma said...

I love the idea of schools having a garden. I truly think it helps kids understand that the food you eat isn't something in a can or from the fast food place. The more kids can connect with this idea, the better they will eat and the more variety they will have in their diet. Kids who only know Micky D's have a limited scope of what is out there.
Homemade salad dressing? Yum. And cool that the kids got to prepare the meal. A good starting block for future home cooks as well as maybe some up and coming chefs. Perhaps I should start to look into that since Brian is "sensitive" to MSG and most dressings are filthy with the stuff.
Brussel sprouts roasted with honey? Brian really likes Brussel sprouts, but I can't stand them. Maybe I will look into that.

marymaddux6272 said...

I knew you'd love this place.