Alice Waters Edible Schoolyard Lunch – Georgia Organics

Peter dale, Matthew Raiford, edible schoolyard, Alice waters, Shared Plates, Georgia Organics

Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard Lunch Brings Farm-to-School to Conference

 

The “school cafeteria” came together quickly. The place settings weren’t arranged; rather, stacked plates and piles of silverware were carefully placed in the center of the long, running tables. Seasonal February flower arrangements, sourced from 3 Porch Farm northeast of Athens, dotted the tables and flanked the edges of the room. Minutes before the doors were opened, bowls of peanut hummus and platters of turnips, carrots, and flatbread were spread along the tables.

At 12:45pm, the doors opened, and the largest Edible Schoolyard Project lunch ever put on by Chef Alice Waters and her team began. The lunch was an exciting addition to the Georgia Organics’ annual Conference and Expo programming, held in The Classic Center in Athens, Georgia. 

Chefarmer Matthew Raiford, the Georgia Organics board member who had invited long-time friend Waters to the conference, worked in the kitchen with Chef Peter Dale of Athens’ The National and other cooks. The menu was fun to work with, Raiford said, with Georgia Organics, local farmers, and the chefs coming together to make sure that “everything except for the salt and pepper came from within 150 miles of Athens”. 

Peter dale, Matthew Raiford, edible schoolyard, Alice waters, Shared Plates, Georgia Organics

With the chefs placing the finishing touches on the family-style plates, the lunch crowd filed in and found seats. The energy in the room was palpable as Alice Rolls, President and CEO of Georgia Organics, took to the stage to briefly introduce Alice Waters and the Farm to School Lunch. “Interactive education is the best way to learn,” said Rolls, “and that’s what we’re gonna do today”.

Alice Waters, famed owner of Chez Panisse and founder of the Edible Schoolyard Project (ESP), took the stage recounting some of her favorite memories in Georgia. She told stories of Edna Lewis bringing her cow to a Southern Foodways Alliance to make biscuits with fresh cream, saying “that’s my kind of purist, yes, but that’s also my kind of determination”. Waters also spoke of President Jimmy Carter’s impactful work with Habitat for Humanity, recalling a shared visit to an elementary school in San Francisco, a “school-raising” to build a school garden and complete classroom makeovers over the course of a single day.

Although Waters is widely known for buying food directly from farmers for Chez Panisse’s kitchen over the last 48 years, she brought the Edible Schoolyard Lunch to Georgia to present a different kind of a meal: a healthy, locally-sourced school lunch she envisioned for the public school system. 

With these school lunch demos, Waters “wanted to dispel the myths: that there’s no time for kids to sit at a table to eat lunch, that is impossible to serve wholesome food. I wanted to show that for a great number of people eating together, it could be a civilized, nutritious, delicious experience, both in terms of the food and the aesthetics,” she said. 

Waters is promoting “school supported agriculture” with the Edible Schoolyard Project, an organization devoted to building the capacity of edible education programs in public schools through tools, resources, and trainings. Over the past 25 years, in work in Berkeley, California and around the country, the Edible Schoolyard Project has collaborated with teachers and created curriculum to show that “there is really no subject that you could not connect with food that you’re serving in the cafeteria,” said Alice.

“This initiative is also to give the real cost of food to farmers,” added Waters. Supporting farmers was more important than ever, she explained, as regenerative organic farming was needed to address climate issues. A direct relationship with farmers “who are taking care of their land and their farm workers” allows for closed loop initiatives, like sending kitchen scraps back to the farmer to compost. 

After her overview of Edible Schoolyard work, Alice changed gears. School lunch was becoming an academic subject, and attendees were going to get credit for eating it. 

“Now I’m going to give you an assignment”, she started, starting to smile mischievously. “Our fast food culture does not believe that we can serve a huge group of 650 students in the cafeteria seated. So we’re going to prove them wrong,” explained Waters. 

Long tables were split into groups of eight, and individuals were tasked with different responsibilities, to be completely silently: setting the silverware, getting napkins, or grabbing lunch items like fritters, vegetables, or iced tea. The cafeteria started to murmur, but before anyone could move, Waters joyfully called out, “…and we’re timing you. Go!”

The entire “cafeteria” was a flurry of movement, as groups moved quickly to accomplish assigned tasks. Attendees quietly laughed and smiled at one another as they gathered lunch components, some comparing it to being in school again.

Three minutes and 43 seconds later, Waters called the time. “You’ve beat all other lunches with twice the people!” she proudly announced. The crowd applauded, and to celebrate, the “students” eagerly dove into lunch. 

The food was delicious, with reezy-peezy fritters served atop collard greens, cornbread and root vegetables on the side. Participants passed family-style platters of salad greens with Meyer lemon vinaigrette and finished off the peanut hummus. 

peanut humas, Alice waters, edible schoolyard, shared plates, Georgia Organics

As attendees ate, many studied the placemats lining the table. The placemats, designed by the Edible Schoolyard team, beautifully displayed a map of Georgia and the farmers who participated in the lunch. “I want people to really feel like they were in time and place,” recounted Waters later. “This is February in the South, and this is what we could eat for a school lunch from [local farms].” 

Sarah Dasher, Schools Program Manager at the Wylde Center, a nonprofit that does environmental education in City Schools of Decatur and some Atlanta Public Schools, reflected on what she sees as powerful in ESP’s focus on accessible edible education. “Schools are starting to see that this is something they need to do consistently every day, not on a weekly basis, in order to make an impact,” said Dasher.

Paula Burke, an extension agent with University of Georgia in Carroll County, also expressed belief in the staying power of locally-sourced produce for a school lunch. “People used to think that this was just a trend that was going to go away—I don’t think that’s true at this point,” she added. 

As plates were cleared, Kimberly Della Donna, Farm to School Director with Georgia Organics, introduced the next speaker: Georgia’s State Nutrition Director and a “Farm to School champion”, Dr. Linette Dodson.

Dodson spoke of the efforts to serve 1.1 million kids a day in Georgia’s schools. “We are the only state with a focus on an academic food program,” said Dodson. “It’s not just the service of the meal, it’s also food-based learning activities that can be done in the classroom that continue to expand student palettes”.

Dodson reflected on the Edible Schoolyard Project lunch, drawing connections to Breakfast in the Classroom, an expanding program in Georgia. 

“When I see our students eating together during Breakfast in the Classroom, it models a community environment while maintaining nutrition and food safety standards,” said Dodson.  “It gives the students and the teacher an opportunity to start the day with the kind of community that I think we saw here this afternoon [with the Edible Schoolyard Project]”.

“One of the reasons I wanted to bring Alice Waters here,” Chefarmer Raiford later explained, “is our farm to school program that has been spearheaded with Georgia Organics and Georgia Grown. Georgia has one of the most amazing programs I’ve seen, and I think can be very easily modeled in other states”.

As apple crisp with vanilla ice cream was brought to the long tables (to audible murmurs of excitement), Dodson surveyed the audience about how many people had eaten a school lunch in their district the last year. “I would like to encourage farmers, parents, and community members to visit and eat a school meal,” she added. “Learn what is happening in your local school nutrition program and what is being served as part of your school meals. When you visit, ask how you can be a partner for supporting quality school meals in that district.”

Raiford, joining Waters on stage once the final plate was out of the kitchen, offered his own call to action. “What city do you live in? What action can you take?” he asked, prompting farmers who had sold to schools to raise their hands. To the rest of the audience, he challenged, “Go back to your district, find out who’s in charge at your schools—there is work that needs to be done,” he urged.

To close out the lunch, Waters echoed Dodson and Raiford’s advocacy for farm to school. “And I know I’ll never forget the reezy-peezy today,” she said, hugging her friend Raiford as the audience laughed. She added, “I call this a delicious revolution”. 

Based on the applause, empty plates, and full stomachs, the students in the audience couldn’t agree more.


Shared Plates covered this story for Georgia Organics’ newsletter The Dirt. This story can also be found on the Georgia Organics blog.

Alice Waters & GA’s Farm to School Momentum – Georgia Organics

Alice Waters Visit Highlights Farm-to-School Momentum in Georgia

 

Georgia’s reputation as a farm-to-school leader was on full display during Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard Project lunch at the Georgia Organics conference.

While Alice Waters may be most well-known as chef and owner of Chez Panisse, she was a Montessori teacher before she started the restaurant. This background informs her work today with the Edible Schoolyard Project, a nonprofit she founded over 25 years ago. The ESP supports a network of over 7,000 schools that have a garden, kitchen classroom, farm to school lunch program, or curriculum that involves ecology, sustainability, and building community.

The Edible Schoolyard started in a Berkeley middle school before expanding outreach across the country. “It began not as a cooking or gardening class,” said Waters. “It happens to use a garden and a kitchen to teach academic subjects”. The garden and the kitchen, Waters said, are for everything from science and medicine to art, language, or history.

Waters champions the Montessori idea that “our senses are the pathways into our minds” by incorporating learning-by-doing pedagogy into the Edible Schoolyard Project.

“I really believe that our children in this country are sensorily deprived. I mean many because of hunger and poverty, but all of them because of this fast food indoctrination,” said Waters. Edible education, according to Waters, has traction because it encourages children to engage with their senses.

For Waters, this edible education is also fundamentally tied to the idea of school supported agriculture. “You can buy directly from the farmers who are taking care of their land and their farm workers” and bring it into the classroom, added Waters.

To showcase the potential of a school supported agriculture lunch, Waters has toured Edible Schoolyard demonstrations around the country, including a student-style lunch at the February 9th Georgia Organics Conference & Expo. The 650-person lunch, sourced entirely from within 150 miles except for the salt and pepper, powerfully displayed the strong relationship between schools and farms in the state.

Kimberly Della Donna, Farm to School Director for Georgia Organics, said that it was Chefarmer Matthew Raiford, a Georgia Organics board member, and Alice Waters who proposed bringing the Edible Schoolyard Project to Georgia. “They were very excited about the possibility of having this lunch at our conference, because they thought that this might be a receptive audience to the vision that Edible Schoolyard has for school nutrition,” said Della Donna.

1.1 million school lunches are served every day in Georgia. According to the Georgia Farm to School Alliance annual report, in 2018, over 50% of public school districts in Georgia reported buying local or Georgia Grown food items, adding at least $24 million in local purchases to the state economy.

Dr. Linette Dodson, Georgia’s State Director of School Nutrition, credits some of Georgia’s farm to school success to the collaboration between the Georgia Department of Education and local school districts, with the support of State Superintendent Richard Woods. “We’re really fortunate in Georgia; we have a lot of very qualified local directors that are doing some really innovative things,” said Dodson. “They have a strong focus on incorporating local agriculture and locally sourced foods into our program”.

“I think the evolution of school nutrition in Georgia is continuing to set the standard as far as leadership,” said Dodson. “There’s a lot of foundational pieces [of national school nutrition] that actually came out of Georgia”.

School nutrition programs also partner with multiple collaborative state agencies like the Department of Agriculture, UGA extension, DECAL, and the Department of Public Health, as well as non profit associations like Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Dairy Alliance, and Georgia Organics.

After founding the state’s first farm to school program in 2007, Georgia Organics has expanded advocacy and training across the state. Currently, Georgia Organics works with school districts, early care centers, state-wide partners, and agencies to grow farm to school at the grassroots and “grasstops” level. Georgia Organics’ programs are designed to remove barriers for farm to school, with information and support on certifications, trainings, and food safety regulations. The annual Golden Radish awards are designed to showcase the schools leading by example and putting their money where their mouth is.

According to Matthew Raiford, farm and school relationships benefit one overlooked group in particular: small farmers. In his work with Georgia Organics, Raiford trains cafeteria workers and nutrition professionals, but he also spends time with farmers looking to extend the seasons to provide more local food, year-round.

“Farm to school gives small farmers an opportunity to see an important revenue stream that has been overlooked for decades,” said Raiford.

In addition, Georgia’s farm to school focus makes a lasting impact on students. “We are the only state in the nation that has a focus on an academic nutrition program,” added Dodson. Classrooms are used to educate students in the cafeteria, with curriculum that links academic subjects to school gardens and healthy, delicious food.

“I always say that it’s, kind of, six weeks to kale,” laughed Waters. “But seriously, I feel like all of these kids who had three years at the Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, that they will forever be mindful of the environment and will be able to nourish themselves really well”.

Because a school lunch brings children together in a different way, said Waters, kids are quick to understand the value in an edible education. “They get it osmosis, a kind of camaraderie and sharing of a meal. They take it home to their parents too”.

For Raiford, Georgia’s robust farm to school program was one of the reasons he wanted to bring Waters to Georgia. “Our farm to school program that has been spearheaded with Georgia Organics and Georgia Grown is one of the most amazing programs I’ve seen—and it can be very easily modeled in other states,” he said.

Alice Rolls, Matthew Raiford , edible schoolyard, shared plates, Georgia Organics

This connection between students and farmers is something Waters wants to champion across the country. Waters mentioned the work she’s seen President Jimmy Carter do with Habitat for Humanity, and advocates for activists to come together with the sense of a barn raising—or rather, a “school raising”.

“We need to win over that next generation, and that means doing this farm to school work in the public schools,” said Waters. “I think it’s the perfect relationship to have with schoolchildren and farms”.


Shared Plates covered this story for Georgia Organics’ newsletter The Dirt. This story can also be found on the Georgia Organics blog.

Long-Term Hoop House Research at Woodland Gardens – Georgia Organics

Woodland Gardens Hoop house high tunnel

Long-Term Hoop House Research at Woodland Gardens

 

Celia Barss, owner of Woodland Gardens, a 12+ acre organic farm just outside of Athens in Winterville, Georgia, know the benefits and weaknesses of hoop houses firsthand. With about an acre and a half of hoop houses, the oldest one at the 15-year mark, Barss recounts how her hoop houses started to suffer a decline in production, due to pest and disease pressure, around year ten.

One of the prime issues in Barrs’ hoop houses, which is common with most growers, is root knot nematodes, parasites that build up to large numbers in the beds and destroy root systems. “Everyone will end up having problems with it, because they’re present in our soil – it’s a matter of time,” says Barss.

“Our hoop houses have been here for a long time, so we’re seeing more of the problems,” she adds.

Dr. Elizabeth Little, extension plant pathologist and associate professor with University of Georgia, has been working with Barss and Woodland Gardens for over seven years, and she backs up the grower’s assessment. 

“It’s not just with Celia’s – hoop houses are valuable territory,” Little says. “They tend to be used extensively, and growers don’t always do the same cover crops and long-term rotations that they do in the fields”.

“Most of the small, local, organic producers have at least one hoop house,” adds Little. “But, they don’t really come with instructions,” she jokes. 

Little is evaluating different best management practices to keep issues like nematodes at bay, including cover crop rotations, non-host rotations, soil solarization in the summer, and different soil inputs. 

“There are challenges with the research. You can prove something and have results – but is it something that will work with the grower?”, says Barss.

According to Barss, because many growers get their first hoop houses through NRCS grants, this is an important issue for everyone. For growers with only a few houses who will want to push production, “you invest a lot in these hoop houses, so you need to get production out of them and stabilize farm income,” she adds.

Barss’ moveable hoop houses don’t experience the same level of nematodes issues, because the soil isn’t being as used as intensely. As for her old hoop houses, “I’m not using them as intensively as I used to, and in my newer houses, I’m not pushing it as much,” says Barss. “We’re still having success, enough of a return… but we have to negotiate and manage the problem”.

Celia Barss, Woodland Gardens, Georgia Organics, Shared Plates, Dr. Elizabeth Little, Organic Farming, Athens Georgia, high tunnel

Barss and Little will be sharing best preventative management practices that have come out of research and trials at their “Advanced Hoop House Soil Management” session at the Georgia Organics conference.

“Growers often aren’t aware of soil-borne problems that build for quite a while,” says Little. “It can help raise their awareness of potential issues, so they can take preventative measures as needed”.

On farm research is always a challenge, says Little, but “there’s a need for more research on what works in organics in Georgia”. But in partnering with Barss, Little can work to replicate results, providing critical research that is based on years-long, long-term trials. This research, says Barss, is about meeting the growers’ needs, whether they are “new farmers or farmers eight years in.”

Celia Barss, Woodland Gardens, Georgia Organics, Shared Plates, Dr. Elizabeth Little, Organic Farming, Athens Georgia , High Tunnel

Shared Plates covered this story for Georgia Organics’ newsletter The Dirt. This story can also be found on the Georgia Organics blog.