April 16, 2015

The Garden and Kids Thrive at Malcolm X School in Berkeley

On Monday April 13, representatives from Western Growers and the American Cancer Society attended a school Garden event in Oakland at Malcom X Elementary School.  The K-5 students had the opportunity to showcase their school garden and what it taught them about healthy eating.   

With the help of a $1500 grant from the Western Growers Foundation and Malcom X school garden coordinator Rivka Mason, what started out 17-years ago as an experiment has developed into a laboratory of discovery and joy for the children attending the largest K-5 school in the Berkeley Unified School District (almost 600 pupils). “As long as the garden is here, I’m happy,” says one of the children, and that sentiment was both pervasive and infectious as dozens of children demonstrated their knowledge of the plants they were growing and their nutritional value to the lucky visitors.

From edible flowers, to kale leaves to fennel and peppermint, the children each began with a leaf (cabbage, lettuce, kale) and built custom “weedos” (think of burritos or wraps) piling their favorite ingredients growing in the garden. 

But the big pay-off was seeing that the children could actually identify the plants they had grown and had also learned about the nutritional benefits of most of them, which they had no trouble reciting to their guests. They all had advice to give us about what to eat and let us know how they now ask their parents at home to buy and fix more fresh fruits and vegetables. The hour spent with these smiling and happy children was indeed affirmation of the work being done by both the Western Growers Foundation and the American Cancer Society.

A little over a year ago, both organizations “joined forces to emphasize the cancer-fighting and preventative benefits of a healthy diet” and “raise the awareness of the importance of making healthy food and lifestyle choices to help lower cancer risk.” In a country where the majority of children go without a single serving of fruit or vegetables each day and obesity rates are predicted to be over 40 percent, the value of this kind of curriculum and a laboratory (i.e. a school garden on the campus), cannot be underrated.

“Western Growers has long been committed to plant and sustain an edible garden in every willing Arizona and California school,” say Olson.  “We have funded over 700 schools, 90 percent of which are still active, and we provide resources to all interested schools so they may give this hands-on learning experience to their pupils. The children at Malcolm X School are just some of the thousands, and we hope growing, number of young people who now know where their food comes from and how healthy it is for them and their families.”