by D. Lyn Hunter, Public Affairs
When Alice Waters, founder of the world-renowned Chez Panisse restaurant, learned that 85 percent of America's children no longer sit down with their families for a nightly dinner, she was shocked.
"We are spawning a new generation of kids completely disconnected from the bonding ritual of eating together, a generation that doesn't understand where food comes from," she said.
Waters, whose passion for fresh food began as a child in her parents' WWII Victory Garden, visited campus Tuesday, Feb. 10, to discuss her "delicious revolution," an effort to increase the appreciation of food and its affect on our quality of life.
Part of her revolution includes re-connecting children to the art of growing, preparing and sharing food, she said.
"One day, I happened to pass by Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School. It looked very run down, but it had quite a bit of land around it, which intrigued me," recalled Waters.
Upon further investigation, she discovered the school cafeteria, which had been closed for several years, was being used for storage. Students got their lunches from vending machines.
Working with the school's principal, Waters devised a plan for students to plant a garden, harvest the crops and use them to prepare a sit-down lunch together.
"This isn't just about health, its about getting kids to come to good food because they love it and have an appreciation for the process," she said.
But before Waters could assemble her outdoor classroom, the grounds had to be prepared for a garden. After a bulldozer broke up the concrete covering the area, the children cleaned up the site, tilled the soil and built fences.
Now in its fourth year, the students, using generous donations from Bay Area suppliers, have established a daily gardening routine.
After harvesting the fruits of their labors, the children prepare dishes such as calzones and salads. Then they sit down together at the table, complete with checkered table cloth and flower arrangement, and enjoy a nutritious lunch all their own.
"A transformation happens as these kids become involved in making their own food-they take pride in their ability to provide nourishment for themselves and others, and this builds their self-confidence," said Waters.
The success of the "Edible Schoolyard" at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School has prompted Waters to start similar programs throughout the state and nation.
"Delaine Easton, state superintendent of schools, has pledged to have a garden in every school by the year 2000, and I have been corresponding with the President and the First Lady about this, too," said Waters.
Plans for creating a garden-to-table program at the Berkeley Art Museum restaurant is also in the works, according to Waters.
The Edible Schooyard project needs volunteers, said Waters, adding that a love for growing things is the only skill needed. Call 558-1335 for information.