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Changing the way kids “eat, learn, and live” at the Edible Schoolyard New Orleans

Written by  InthekNOwla.com
If you went to school in Orleans parish, then we’re sure you remember lunchtime. The rectangle-shaped sausage pizza, hamburgers and “Cajun” fries, mashed potatoes and perfectly square chicken nuggets, yellow rice and baked chicken, and something that kind of resembles the McRib from McDonald's. Mix in the regulatory fruit cocktail, spinach (if the grass had recently been cut), bread, and white milk (though it was like finding a $20 bill when a rare chocolate milk was spotted).
 
And on those many days when we didn’t want cafeteria food, there were the vending machines with all kinds of goodies to eat and drink…Doritos, vanilla crème cookies, Sprite, and fruit punch…all the sugar and salt you could want. Needless to say, lunchtime wasn’t exactly the healthiest. In all honesty, our eating habits in general weren’t (and still aren’t) all that healthy.
Edible Schoolyard New Orleans | New Orleans Causes | InthekNOwla.com
But in case you haven’t noticed, New Orleans has been embracing the notion of healthier eating. From Sheaux Fresh Sustainable Foods, a family owned and operated urban garden, to the Sankofa Farmers Market, a weekly farmers market in the 9th ward offering healthy local food, New Orleanians seem to be jumping on the bandwagon of living healthy lifestyles. And what a good bandwagon to be a part of!
 
And there’s a wonderful program aimed at getting New Orleans youth involved in living healthier lifestyles. Founded in 2006, Edible Schoolyard New Orleans (ESY NOLA) is on a mission to change the way our children “eat, live, and learn” in New Orleans.
 
The goal of the Edible Schoolyard “is to improve the long-term well being of the students, families, and school community by integrating hands-on organic gardening and seasonal cooking into the school curriculum, culture, and cafeteria programs. ESY NOLA involves students in all aspects of growing, harvesting, preparing and enjoying food together as a means of awakening their senses, cultivating a school environment that promotes a sense of pride and responsibility for our land and natural resources, and developing a love of fresh, seasonal foods.”
Edible Schoolyard New Orleans | New Orleans Causes | InthekNOwla.com
Edible Schoolyard is currently in five New Orleans public schools: Samuel J. Green Charter School (the flagship garden site), Langston Hughes Academy, John Dibert Community School, Joseph S. Clark High School, and Arthur Ashe Charter School (which will be moving to the old Bienville Elementary School in Gentilly next year).

What’s great about the Edible Schoolyard program is that it not only teaches our youth healthy eating choices, but it also provides a much-needed outlet for some of New Orleans’ most underserved populations. Development Coordinator Alisha Johnson explained, “Before the Edible Schoolyard program was implemented at Samuel Green Charter School, sixty percent of the sixth to eight graders had parole officers. The neighbors were frightened of the kids when school let out and barbed wire surrounded the fence to keep the kids in. But now, the barbed wire has been replaced by vines and there are beautiful gardens welcoming you to the school and letting the kids know that they’re welcome here, they’re safe here, and that we trust them. We realize that many of our students are facing a lot when they leave school, but when they get here, they’re going to find acceptance and security.”
 
She added, “We have a great structure. Kids know that they’re going to find discipline when they get here, but it’s going to be done lovingly and it's going to be consistent. They understand that when they come here, they're coming to learn and we will support them and have high expectations for them.”
Edible Schoolyard New Orleans | New Orleans Causes | InthekNOwla.com
The Edible Schoolyard program focuses on three points: organic gardening, seasonal cooking, and the cafeteria reform program. “It’s amazing to see kids at the kindergarten level picking tomatoes and potatoes, and growing eggplant,” Alisha said. “They already ready know at four and five years old things that I’m just learning in my 30s! The program is fully integrated into the science curriculum, so the gardeners, teachers, and program director are in constant communication with each other to find out how we can support the children and reinforce what they are learning when they visit the garden.”
 
In addition, fifth through eight grade students in the program participate in the Freret Market as part of the Budding Entrepreneurs after school program. Alisha explained, “The students sell their produce from the garden, kitchen utensils, jam that's made from the red peppers that they grow or soap that they made using mint, rosemary and a variety of other things from the garden. As a result, they’re learning valuable business skills. I'm listening to fifth and sixth graders sit down and talk about what they should charge based upon how much labor went into each product and that's really exciting.”
 
The Edible Schoolyard is also looking forward to a partnership with NORD to host a community garden site in the Oak Park area of Gentilly. Alisha said, “The community will be able to take part in the maintenance of the garden, benefit from the produce, and get hands on experience about different gardening techniques. We want to provide a hub where people can come and share and also connect to the children.”
Edible Schoolyard New Orleans | New Orleans Causes | InthekNOwla.com
The Edible Schoolyard New Orleans is obviously changing the way New Orleans youth eat, learn, and live. And these children are taking what they learn in this program back into their communities and teaching their families and friends. As the Edible Schoolyard program continues to grow, more and more young New Orleanians will know and understand what it means to eat better and hopefully continue to pass it on.

Alisha added, “Now that these kids have experienced certain things in this program, they now know to ask for them. These kids are going to grow up thinking that my school should be providing me healthy food choices and when they have kids, they’ll demand it of their schools.”
 
For more information about the Edible Schoolyard New Orleans, please visit their website, Facebook, and Twitter pages.
 
Last modified on Thursday, 28 June 2012
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