BLOOMING NON PROFIT: EDIBLE SCHOOLYARD NYC

Edible Schoolyard NYC’s vision is that all children are educated and empowered to make healthy food choices for themselves, their communities, and their environment, actively achieving a just and sustainable food system for all.

MEET JEN / KITCHEN TEACHER

MEET LIZA / DIRECTOR OF EDUCATION

 

JAIMIE / GARDEN TEACHER / EDIBLE SCHOOLYARD NYC

How will you bloom in the next year?

I feel like I am in bloom! Becoming a part of the Edible Schoolyard NYC (ESYNYC) team this summer as a Garden Teacher has been huge. Finding a full-time position with benefits in edible education is no easy task but ESYNYC has provided so much more than that. I have the freedom in my position to be more than just a garden teacher and I’m using it to explore the intersectionality between edible education and social justice.

Personally I would like to become a more active activist! Fighting for social justice issues isn’t new to me - I dared to say “feminism” before the word was in vogue, I’ve escorted women past violent protestors to abortion clinics and I taught sex ed in a country where it was illegal –but this is a new era. We are living in a time that will be written about in textbooks.

As Americans we have been presented with an ugly reality that our political system isn’t inoculated to bigotry and cronyism, and moreover, that many of our citizens support such behavior. But we can fight! We can stand up, we can be relentless and loud and nasty women. More than ever, I’m screaming my feminism, my queerness, my love for immigrants and Muslims. Now I’m supporting organizations fighting for our marginalized masses more than ever. This is a scary moment in our history but more than anything, this is our loudest call to action. It’s an invitation to fight and I’ve RSVP’ed “Hell yea!”

What are your top 3 things that we can do to bring about sustainable change?

1) Try to eat plants. It’s better for your body & our environment.

2) Eat local, if you can. But often access, affordability, & cultural appropriateness are issues.

3) Be an engaged, questioning member of our food system.

What is a normal day for you at Edible Schoolyard NYC?

What I love about my position is that no day is the same. I teach students from Pre-K to 8th grade so the interactions and levels of education range greatly. However, most everyday is filled with classes where we’ll plant a seed, make soil, harvest from our garden or do an experiment in decomposition. No matter what, we’re up, moving and exploring the natural world. We always close our classes with a tasting ritual where we sit in a circle and wait for each person to have the tasting in their hand. Once we all have our tasting, all together we say our thanks, “Thank you Gardeners, Thank you Cooks!” and eat all together. It’s a really nice moment where we come together and appreciate our food and the people who make it possible for us to eat it.

Can you talk a little bit more about “food access”?

Access is a definite consideration. We cook these incredible vegetarian dishes and grow beautiful organic produce, but the ability of our students and their families to purchase and cook these same things may be difficult or impossible. Some families may not have the financial means to stock their kitchens with fruits and vegetables while others may not have working stoves or enough space to cook. While this is not the case for each family in our community it’s a reality for many.

Addressing some of these access barriers in our community is very important to our team. Whenever there are extra ingredients from a kitchen class recipe or surplus produce from the garden, we hand it all out for free to the school community during dismissal. We also hold a weekly farmers market (May-June and September-November). Our middle school students lead the program where we sell fruits and vegetables harvested from our garden, local community gardens and nearby farms either at-price or underpriced.

Lastly, what do you want to be remembered for?

At the end of the day, I want to make sure that I am questioning normalized ideals and advocating for change. At one point our society burned witches, slavery was once legal and we only won the right for same sex marriage 2 years ago. Culturally insane practices happen all the time but the real danger is when they go unquestioned and we don't do anything about it.

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LIZA / DIRECTOR OF EDUCATION / EDIBLE SCHOOLYARD NYC

HOW WILL YOU BLOOM IN THE NEXT YEAR?

PROFESSIONALLY, WE ARE TRYING TO FOCUS ON IMPROVING JUSTICE AND EQUITY IN OUR WORK. I WOULD LIKE TO TAKE PART IN HAVING OUR CURRICULUM BETTER EXPRESS THEMES OF SOCIAL JUSTICE. PERSONALLY, I GUESS THE ANSWER IS THAT IT'S TIME TO BECOME AN ACTIVIST AGAIN. I GUESS THAT'S WHAT I WILL TRY TO DO.

WHAT IS EDIBLE SCHOOLYARD NYC & HOW DID YOU ORIGINALLY GET INVOLVED?

Edible Schoolyard NYC is a way for kids to be involved with their food from seed to table in a hands-on, engaging way and this process that they go through of growing and cooking their food makes them like simple, healthy, plant-based food.

I was a teacher and after eight years teaching I went back to school to study more, specifically, I studied how to teach teachers. When I started working with Edible Schoolyard NYC most people in the organization had a strong expertise in food, either cooking, gardening, or both, but I was able to offer a perspective on education and making that teachable to students.

WHAT EXCITES YOU MOST ABOUT THE CLASSROOM & WHAT HAVE BEEN SOME OBSTACLES WITH REGARDS TO GETTING THE ORGANIZATION UP AND RUNNING?

What I'm drawn to is the way that our students learn because it's a hands-on learning experience that is a very joyful and engaging kind of learning. Having students getting their hands dirty in the garden or chopping vegetables and further, seeing the satisfaction of the things that they grow and cook is special. I think it's a very simple educational philosophy which is that if we teach kids to both grow and cook the food, they will be much more likely to eat and enjoy the food.

Our first school, we attempted to replicate what we'd seen in Berkeley, as we were a spin-off of the original Berkeley Edible Schoolyard. As we grew, we tried to make sure that in the next schools that we went into, there was as much buy-in as possible from members of the school and community. When we expanded into four more schools, all of which are more community-based models, we learned to be more responsive to the community and not simply plop a program into a school but really try to listen to what the school or what the community might want.

Another obstacle is that education is in a funny place right now. It's very accountability-based. Schools are under a tremendous amount of pressure to do well on their tests, and those tests are literacy and math. Principals aren't rewarded for providing the kind of enrichment that Edible Schoolyard NYC can bring; they're rewarded for getting good test scores.

CAN YOU TOUCH UPON BUILDING POSITIVE FOOD RELATIONSHIPS?

It's a very fundamental part of being well. I feel like it's something that should be very simple, but it has become very difficult to know what kind of food is good for your body and what will make you feel good, as well as, recognize how to care for yourself. Food is a very fundamental right. We often deal with preference and education, but we're also tremendously concerned with access. It's crazy that people should not have access to affordable, healthy food.

I would say first of all just to be kind to yourself about food. It's hard to eat healthy. Everyone should just try to do the best they can. Finding ways that make it manageable for you to eat healthy, whether it's semi-prepared food or lettuce that's already chopped—if that's going to make you more likely to eat lettuce, than go for it! I always feel very inspired by our classes and watching the kids cook and seeing the recipes, so I think just whatever exposes you to a good idea for food or whatever brings you inspiration is good. Find something that makes you want to eat a plant.

HOW CAN PEOPLE GET INVOLVED WITH EDIBLE SCHOOLYARD NYC?

Hopefully our website is welcoming and easy to navigate. We appreciate donations of any size and that is frankly what we need, financial support. But we also really value volunteers and people who are interested in volunteering in the garden or in the kitchen classroom should also check out our website. We appreciate any and all help.

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JEN / KITCHEN TEACHER / EDIBLE SCHOOLYARD NYC

 
 

"LISTEN, LEARN, AND COLLABORATE.

TO REALLY BUILD SOMETHING SUSTAINABLE, IT DOESN’T TAKE JUST ONE PERSON IT TAKES A COMMUNITY."

 

HOW WILL YOU BLOOM IN THE NEXT YEAR?

Professionally, this is my second year at Edible Schoolyard NYC, and I would like to continue building stronger relationships with my students. I would love for my students to look back one day and say, "Oh yeah, I remember Miss Jen, she taught me really good skills that as I grew into an adult, I never forgot."

HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH EDIBLE SCHOOLYARD NYC?

I went to school for nutrition. I went to SUNY Plattsburgh for my undergrad and then Hunter College for my masters. I have always been interested in food and health and love working in the prevention rather than treatment stages of nutrition related illnesses.

Children, especially this age—elementary through high school—are really great to engage with, because this is when they build habits and the impact we have on them can be deeper. It's a little harder to work with adults, because they’re kind of stuck in their ways. It's also a different experience to work with children because I love coming into work and expecting something new every day.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST REWARDING MOMENT THAT YOU'VE HAD?

After we cook with our students, we sit down and set the table and that's when we get to talk and be more social. When I see our students talking freely and feeling super comfortable in this space, I would say that's one of the many times of the day when I feel satisfied. I like to see that our students have a certain comfort level with us where they feel that they can say anything and feel that they are in a safe place.

WHAT DOES EDIBLE SCHOOLYARD NYC MEAN TO THE NEW YORK CITY COMMUNITY?

Since we are based in East Harlem, it's almost like an oasis away from the urban concrete jungle. We're bringing a new kind of environment to a community where you might not see as many gardens or community building projects. Number one, we're bringing community building, but then we're also teaching and working with that community on how to live healthier lifestyles. Many students say, "This is the only place where I really like to eat vegetables!" We try and teach them that healthy food can taste good and also be something that can be adaptable.

WHAT ARE THE TOP THREE THINGS YOU THINK THAT ALL PEOPLE CAN DO TO BRING ABOUT SUSTAINABLE CHANGE?

Listen, learn and collaborate.

Sometimes, it's not all about speaking about what you know but it’s also about listening to others. To really build something sustainable, it doesn’t take just one person it takes a community. I feel that through working together as a community and listening to what one other has to say, we will build a stronger community and reap the benefits.

A KICK BUTT FORUM THAT AIMS TO INSPIRE, COMFORT AND UNITE INCREDIBLE WOMEN (& DUDES) THROUGH DYNAMIC INTERVIEWS