A sandwich at Babette Café, at BAMPFA, one of eight Berkeley restaurants taking part in the Spring Dine Out initiative to raise funds for the BUSD gardening and cooking program. Photo: Babette Café

On Thursday, eight Berkeley restaurants are taking part in a campaign to support the gardening and cooking programs at Berkeley’s public schools. To make it work, all that’s needed is for people to go out to eat.

Babette CaféCancúnElmwood CaféIppukuJules Thin CrustLa NotePhil’s Sliders and Gather have committed to donate at least 15% of their April 20 sales to the program which now counts 17 school gardens and four kitchen classrooms within Berkeley Unified.

The Dine Out initiative is the program’s only fundraiser. Launched in 2013, it was an annual event until this academic year, when it was decided to split it in two, with a fall event that took place in 2016 and the spring event this week.

The funds raised go towards buying materials and supplies for garden projects, fruit and vegetable tastings and cooking activities — pretty much everything except staff salaries, said Thompson. The program employs 13 educators working with a total of 7,000 students, and blends science teaching in gardens with nutrition and cooking learning in classrooms and kitchens.” We decided to put more focus on the restaurants and group them geographically,” said Jezra Thompson, supervisor of gardening and cooking programs at BUSD. The fall event homed in on North and West Berkeley, and Thursday’s eight restaurants are concentrated in downtown and the Elmwood.

The BUSD gardening and cooking program used to be funded, to the tune of $1.9 million, by the California Nutrition Network, but that federal funding was cut in 2013. After some reorganization, the program is now underwritten in three ways: revenues from Berkeley’s soda tax, which amounts to $637,500 annually; $300,000 from the school district general fund; as well as some grant money for special projects.

Berkeley students learn about pollination and honey making as part of the gardening and cooking program at Berkeley Unified. Photo: Courtesy Jezra Thompson
Berkeley students learn about pollination and honey making as part of the gardening and cooking program at Berkeley Unified. Photo: Courtesy Jezra Thompson

“We are in good shape,” said Thompson, explaining that the loss of the CNN money also meant being liberated from the restrictions that came with it, not least the stipulation that only schools where there was over 50% participation in free and reduced-price meals could participate.

This requirement only applied in a few Berkeley schools, said Thompson, whereas now the program has been expanded to include every Berkeley school except Berkeley High (which should be added next year).

“We are in more schools and doing more programming”, said Thompson. “We have developed curriculums for everything we do so we are consistent across schools. And we’re improving all the time, standardizing teaching and sharing best practice.”

The program is applying to the city for the same amount of soda-tax money, and, if approved, it will be secured for the next two years.

The fall Dine Out event raised $6,800 and Thompson said the goal is to raise the same amount again this week.

Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...