An edible schoolyard, Savannah style 

When I grow up I want to be like Alice Waters. She’s a chef, the owner of Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, Calif., a gastronomer.

She’s an activist. Years ago she founded the Edible Schoolyard, a one-acre garden near a middle school in Berkeley to teach kids the connection between planting, harvesting, cooking and eating.

So simple. Since then, her project has expanded to 16 other schools. Now, I read, she’s created a temporary, mini-version of that garden on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

She calls what she does “edible education,” one more element in her fight against the burger-and-soda school lunch -- or more than likely Little Debbie Honey Bun or Zebra Cakes kids pick up by the handful at the corner confectionary. I know the names of these things from all the wrappers I pick up, daily.

If they grow it, Alice Waters figures, they will eat it. It might happen even if they don’t grow it.

I have one little neighborhood boy who says, “Miss Jane, can I pick some broccoli?” Then he does, bounding through the garden next to my house, popping the dense, unopened sprout into his mouth the minute he hops off the school bus.

Last week, when he pedaled up on his bike, I had to break the news to him, “Honey, I really don’t think there’s any broccoli left. It doesn’t like to keep growing in this hot weather.”

“Yes, there is,” he insisted. “I saw some.”

He was right. There it was, hiding between a butternut squash growing on a volunteer vine from the compost pile and a patch of okra I planted from seed.

While most broccoli up and quit when the cool weather up and quits, one or two plants just keep on keeping on. Who knew?

“You might not have much broccoli when these kids get through,” said a friend last January who spent an afternoon in my garden building my chicken coop as he watched three or four kids pick away liberally.

That was the same day I heard one little girl, new to this growing thing, point to a bale of hay and ask a more experienced seven-year-old, “Can we eat this, too?”

“No, silly,” she answered. “That’s hay.”

I don’t care what they eat, I answered my carpenter. I can afford to buy my own organic broccoli.

But I rarely have to. As long as I’ve been growing vegetables -- some 12 years in Savannah -- very few have “disappeared” to acquisitive, miscreant hands. Car radios, yes. A bike, once. A garden gazing ball, in a New York minute. A Weedeater; you bet.

But vegetables? Rarely. Even in my isolated Boundary Street garden, far away from nosy neighbors, very little is taken.

I guess the people passing through figure it’s bad karma. Either that or the vegetables too complicated to negotiate, especially since they’re are not microwaveable, especially if there is no box or vapor-sealed plastic to break.

But forget kids -- or people living in the woods -- and the disconnect between food in the garden and food on the plate. I have friends, smart people, who ooh and awe when I present something as simple as a stalk of garlic.

At a recent Fourth of July gathering, I brought a stack of leggy, woody garlic some three feet long. The rest of my stash I had separated, peeled, diced and bottled in olive oil while watching Venus and Lindsay battle it out at Wimbledon.

Garlic is really an onion, I say, an allium. You know, like leeks, shallots, chives, even ramps, those wild leeks that grow in the Appalachian mountains.

See? The cloves that snap apart are the root. This part on top? It’s the bloom. All you have to do is stick one of these individual cloves -- or toes -- in the ground.

“That’s how it’s grown?” someone said, turning the thing upside down, trying to figure out which end was up, the same way I might stare at a solenoid or a piston.

“Yep, that’s it,” I said. “You plant them the shortest day of the year or sometime in the late fall, then harvest them the longest day, in June.”

If I were the new superintendent of schools, I’d push for vegetable gardens in school yards, a little cash from some civic organization to get the matter going and a visit by Alice Waters to kick off the project. What do you think?

E-mail Jane at gofish5@earthlink.net


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Jane Fishman

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Connect Today 10.23.2016

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