Portraits of staff and the BUSD cooking and gardening program. Photo: Pete Rosos
Portraits of staff from the BUSD cooking and gardening program. Photo: Pete Rosos
Portraits of staff from the BUSD cooking and gardening program. Photo: Pete Rosos

Some weeks ago, Pete Rosos, a contributing photographer to Berkeleyside, decided to embark on a portrait project: He set out to photograph as many people as he could who work for Berkeley Unified School District’s gardening and cooking program. The program, as we have reported, is losing its federal funding next year and is facing severe cutbacks, despite district support and fundraising efforts. A campaign to raise money from within the community has been launched. As part of the effort, Berkeley Dine Out is happening tomorrow, May 30. Many Berkeley restaurants are participating and will donate a portion of their sales to the program.

Below the slideshow that follows, Rosos reflects on what spurred him to create the project, and offers his comments on the threats to the program.

“Politics is the art of choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.” 

John Kenneth Galbraith

When I proposed publishing this project to the editors at Berkeleyside, I was asked if I might also like to write a little something about my motivations for doing so. I had several, some selfish (I’ve got two children in the system), some personal (there was no garden and cooking program where I grew up, and it wasn’t until later in life that I had the chance to learn how to choose the right foods and how to cook them properly). But the primary reason was to introduce to the greater public some of the people most of us rarely get the chance to know: the farmers/gardeners and cooks who do the teaching.

These portraits are not an attempt pull at the heartstrings of Berkeleyans and force them into a state of wallet-jostling guilt. They’re there to match faces to the numbers that have been discussed, and to try to show the personality, strength, and dedication these people possess.

The farmers/gardeners and cooks are not in this because they are looking for handouts to pay the rent. The fact that some of them are likely to keep teaching with half the pay and benefits after the cuts is proof to the contrary. They’re looking for local support in their continuing efforts to provide BUSD students with what they all believe is an invaluable part of the students’ education.

Daria Wrubel, a gardening teacher at Thousand Oaks Elementary, pointed out just some of the invaluable aspects of the program to me:

  • We can redefine the program to include support of Common Core standards, including kitchen- and garden-based lessons on literacy, science, mathematics, and social sciences.
  • Students who sometimes lack confidence in a traditional classroom can gain confidence in cooking and gardening.
  • Cooking and gardening classes increase our students’ health outcomes. Berkeley children are less likely to be overweight or suffer from diabetes because we teach them about healthy food.

At first glance, these reasons may not seem like much, but thinking long-term, on a macro scale, they will make the difference and help provide the well-rounded education children need to enjoy a wider variety of opportunity and stagnation. In what I have observed in the classes, and the results I’ve seen in my own two children (one of whom has been in the system for six years), both the staff and the students are equally eager to teach and to learn.

“Politics is the art of preventing people from busying themselves with what is their own business.”

Paul Valery

In applying this cliché to the problem at hand, let’s hope that Mr. Valery is incorrect, although it might not feel like it. Roughly 80% of the funds needed for the cooking and gardening program will come from grants, large donors and the district, with the remaining 20% being a mix of public/private partnership, school site funding (i.e. PTAs), and local fundraising efforts.

With that 80% being taken care of by professionals, there’s a risk that the larger public might think the issue closed, when instead it should be focusing more than ever on the issue.

Tomorrow, the city-wide Berkeley Dine Out fundraiser will be set to contribute its modest share of the program funding. If you’re so inclined to prove Valery’s statement wrong, don’t just eat or shop at the participating restaurants or food businesses — invite as many people as you can think of to do the same. Exceeding the expected contribution from this fundraiser is the first step.

Berkeley prides itself on its diversity. That said, diversity isn’t just skin deep. The staff you see here are willing to diversify our students’ knowledge to prepare them for their road ahead. The infrastructure for these programs is already in place. Berkeley is lucky enough to have a climate and agricultural environment that allows the teaching of all these programs in real time all year round.  The staff is ready, willing, able, and, what’s more, passionate about the work they do. If their jobs depend on how we fund them, why not get to know them a little?

For more information on Berkeley Dine Out, see the program website.

Berkeley works to save schools’ edible programs [05.09.13]
Berkeley schools’ cooking, gardening programs in peril [04.16.13]
Fight re-launched to save school nutrition programs [11.19.12]
School edible programs get reprieve from the Feds [06.14.12]
Berkeley district votes to fund at-risk edible programs [04.12.12]
Community seeks life support for school edible programs [03.30.12]
Berkeley school district cuts to tackle $3m deficit [03.28.12]
Berkeley school gardening, cooking face cuts [03.23.12]

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Pete Rosos has been a regular contributor to Berkeleyside since 2012 and has worked as a freelance photographer for well over a decade. He shoots mainly digital, but still has a use for, and love of, film...