Punxsutawney Phil may have predicted another six weeks of winter but that hasn't stopped me from dreaming up grand plans for my plot in the community garden. Once the last frost of the season has passed, you'll find me in the garden doing some prep work that will hopefully result in an abundance of vegetables, herbs, and even flowers. I'm merely a weekend gardener so I am in awe of gardeners whose green thumbs cultivate vibrant and verdant growth. Add to that awe a healthy dose of inspiration and you've got my reaction to Alice Waters's newest book, Edible Schoolyard: A Universal Idea (Chronicle Books).
I won't go into Waters's storied beginnings with Chez Panisse and her roles as grande dame of California Cuisine and as a vocal proponent for organic and local foods. What I will tell you is that Edible Schoolyard is a gem of a book. It's not a long book-in fact, I read it in one sitting. And what a simple and compelling story she tells: one woman dreams that food can educate children-and better their lives through it-thus shaping the future and the world we live in. A decade later, the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, California is a model garden cum classroom-cafeteria as it instructs children not only in academic lessons, but also teaches crucial life skills and builds self-esteem, all of which engenders cooperation and understanding amongst the participants. The garden also produces food that feeds all the attending students, ensuring that no child goes hungry. Who wouldn't want any-or all-of that?
Waters gets to tell her story in the first half of the book, but it's the second half that is my favorite. This is where we see photos of the school children actively engaged in various activities: caring for chickens, setting up the kitchen table, cutting up produce, sitting down to eat a meal, and even playing the piano. I know it's not all fun and games, but seeing the children look so happy just makes me feel so happy. And then reading some of their writing assignments, you get a sense of what it is that they get out of their Edible Schoolyard experience. "'What have you learned in the kitchen?'" Here's my favorite answer from a child named Zubeen: "'Something I learned in the kitchen is patience can lead to being full.'" How very true.
So whether you're in need of a shot of hope, like a feel-good story, or just want to get going on your own Edible Garden , pick up a copy. It'll do your soul some good.
Want your own tour of the Edible Schoolyard with Alice Waters as a guide? We've got the video right here.
And for more information on the Edible Schoolyard, visit www.edibleschoolyard.org
By Esther Sung
Meet Epicurious's Diet Blogger and Share Your Stories
Explore the Globe's Most Iconic Recipes in This Weekly Video Series
International Fare, Light Desserts, or Heart-Healthy Recipes, Epicurious Has Them All
The Man in the Orange Clogs Talks About His Influences and Cooking Style
Easy Cooking and Healthy Eating Tips Delivered Daily