Edible Schoolyard head says school kids go hungry

Katrina Heron, who recently took over as director of The Edible Schoolyard Project, wants to “upgrade the menu” at school lunches.

Katrina Heron
Katrina Heron, director of Berkeley’s  Edible Schoolyard Project, wants to “upgrade the menu” at schools. Photo: Alex Stock

By Sylvia Paull

In 1946, President Harry Truman signed the National School Lunch Act to provide what were then a significant amount of malnourished American children with at least one nutritionally balanced, low-cost, or free meal a day. Today, the program feeds 30 million children in public and private schools, but the degree of nutritional balance these meals provide is moot.

Katrina Heron, a former reporter and editor of Wired magazine who was recently appointed director of The Edible Schoolyard Project, says hunger is still a pressing issue among our nation’s children. And, thanks to the federal subsidies provided to corporate food growers of wheat, corn, and soy — as well as to big dairy makers of low-quality cheese — most school lunches focus on processed foods, high in fat, sugar and salt, contributing to the rise in obesity and diabetes among our children.

Edible Schoolyard
The Edible Schoolyard Project trains teachers in the art of “edible education” in short summer camps

The Edible Schoolyard Project (ESP), a Berkeley-based nonprofit started 15 years ago by Chez Panisse restaurant owner Alice Waters, wants to upgrade the menu, and has already done so in hundreds of middle schools across the country and in Italy, said Heron, who was interviewed on Wednesday this week at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute’s Winter Speaker Series at the Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse in downtown Berkeley.

ESP does this by training teachers in the art of “edible education” in a short summer camp held at the Martin Luther King Middle School each summer, and also by sharing its programs online.

All ninth sixth graders in Berkeley take a nutrition class that includes hands-on training in growing, cooking, and sharing meals as well as a review of the history of food. In addition, once a week, families are invited to cook and share a meal with their kids at the school itself.

Asked whether the project would partner with big food companies, Heron said they’ve been approached and she has turned them all down. She believes the project will grow organically, like the gardens that are sprouting all over the schoolyards across the nation, including a new one in Harlem, another in Hunter’s Point, and yet another in Baltimore.

After the talk, local activist Mitzi Trachtenberg asked Heron if she could get help landscaping an edible garden at the Richmond College Prep K-5 Charter School, and Heron said she would get her staff to help set this up. As for funding, Heron is hoping the USDA will kick in, but, in the meantime, she counts on the support of philanthropists, foundations, and volunteers from communities who can help with the edible gardens. To help contribute, visit the Edible Schoolyard Project online.

Albany-based writer, networker, cyclist Sylvia Paull interviewed Katrina Heron on Feb. 5 as part of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute’s Winter Speaker Series

Meet Katrina Heron: new director of the Edible Schoolyard Project [10.26.12]
Berkeley group has plan to fix school food in Oakland [06.15.12]
School edible programs get reprieve from the feds [06.14.12]
Nikki Henderson: On the frontlines of edible education [08.19.11]
Berkeley’s school lunch program is flawed, say insiders [02.14.11]
After Berkeley, school lunches will never be the same [02.02.11]
Berkeley Bites: Alice Waters [10.22.10]

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