Learn how one seed-to-table curriculum is on a mission to engage young minds through the power of healthy eating.

By Alexandra Lim-Chua Wee
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From serving a healthier breakfast to helping to fight hunger, we love schools on a mission to teach young people about good food habits. For students at P.S./M.S 7 and Global Tech Preparatory in East Harlem, New York, it starts with a seasonal farm stand they help run, right out of their playground.

"When I'm in class, I can't wait for farm stand," says sixth-grader Jaka who helps cashier and bag at the pay-what-you-can mini market. Here, neighborhood shoppers can find locally sourced produce and herbs at reduced rates, many of which Jaka and her classmates have grown right in the school's garden. And when she's not selling cucumbers (her favorite), or sowing seeds, you might find Jaka preparing samples-today it's a fresh apple slaw-for farm stand customers, all things she's learned with Edible Schoolyard NYC (ESNYC).

Since 2010, the non-profit seed-to-table educational program has been working with some of the youngest New Yorkers to teach the importance of healthy food habits. Inspired by Alice Waters's seminal Edible Schoolyard Project in Berkeley, California, which was launched 24 years ago with a one-acre garden and kitchen classroom at a local middle school, ESNYC was designed to reflect the diversity of cultures represented in the country's biggest school district. Its goal? To improve the diets of students in kindergarten through twelfth grade, most of whom aren't consuming enough vegetables, according to the CDC.

At Jaka's school, kids learn by helping with the farm stand, taking gardening classes outdoors and in a rooftop greenhouse, and learning about healthy cooking in a former classroom-turned-kitchen. "I like that we get a chance to cook because at home, my mom doesn't cook much," says sixth-grader Ciara, who's excited about planting tomatoes to make sauce for an upcoming healthy pizza recipe. "I think [the program] is a fun way to know what you can actually do with vegetables! It's important for other kids to know that they have options, too, and not only junk food."

The program at P.S./M.S 7 and Global Tech Preparatory is just one of 22 others hosted at thoughtfully chosen schools spanning the city's four boroughs. In the largely eastern European Gravesend neighborhood of Brooklyn, for instance, kids grow beets, carrots, and cabbage on a fertile half-acre, then simmer them into borscht soup. At P.S. 311 in the South Bronx, kindergartners to third-graders whip up pots of vegetarian sancocho, a Dominican stew with plantains and yuca root.

Each of the Edible Schoolyard programs tailors their curriculum to the specific community needs of their students and families. At Jaka and Ciara's school, for instance, many of the students live in East Harlem, a neighborhood with limited access to fresh produce and some of the city's highest poverty and obesity levels. With Edible Schoolyard NYC, students attend classes on how to properly wash, chop, and prepare fruits and vegetables for healthy meals the same way they go to math and science.

"Food is a universal language. For these kids, there's so much joy and pride that comes from cooking and growing their own food," says Kate Brashares, Edible Schoolyard NYC's Executive Director. "For kids who may not thrive in a school environment, I think this can be a great way for them to thrive."

As she points out the carrots and eggplants she helped paint on the garden's wall mural, Ciara agrees. "I think it's a good thing. For us, or for anybody. I think we are really lucky."

Additional reporting by Sarah Engler.

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