Edible Schoolyard head says school kids go hungry

Katrina Heron

Katrina Heron, director of Berkeley’s  Edible Schoolyard Project, wants to “upgrade the menu” at schools. Photo: Alex Stock

In 1946, President Harry Truman signed the National School Lunch Act to provide what were then a significant amount of malnourished American children with at least one nutritionally balanced, low-cost, or free meal a day. Today, the program feeds 30 million children in public and private schools, but the degree of nutritional balance these meals provide is moot.

Katrina Heron, a former reporter and editor of Wired magazine who was recently appointed director of The Edible Schoolyard Project, says hunger is still a pressing issue among our nation’s children. And, thanks to the federal subsidies provided to corporate food growers of wheat, corn, and soy — as well as to big dairy makers of low-quality cheese — most school lunches focus on processed foods, high in fat, sugar and salt, contributing to the rise in obesity and diabetes among our children.

Edible Schoolyard

The Edible Schoolyard Project trains teachers in the art of “edible education” in short summer camps

The Edible Schoolyard Project (ESP), a Berkeley-based nonprofit started 15 years ago by Chez Panisse restaurant owner Alice Waters, wants to upgrade the menu, and has already done so in hundreds of middle schools across the country and in Italy, said Heron, who was interviewed on Wednesday this week at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute’s Winter Speaker Series at the Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse in downtown Berkeley.

ESP does this by training teachers in the art of “edible education” in a short summer camp held at the Martin Luther King Middle School each summer, and also by sharing its programs online.

All ninth sixth graders in Berkeley take a nutrition class that includes hands-on training in growing, cooking, and sharing meals as well as a review of the history of food. In addition, once a week, families are invited to cook and share a meal with their kids at the school itself.

Asked whether the project would partner with big food companies, Heron said they’ve been approached and she has turned them all down. She believes the project will grow organically, like the gardens that are sprouting all over the schoolyards across the nation, including a new one in Harlem, another in Hunter’s Point, and yet another in Baltimore.

After the talk, local activist Mitzi Trachtenberg asked Heron if she could get help landscaping an edible garden at the Richmond College Prep K-5 Charter School, and Heron said she would get her staff to help set this up. As for funding, Heron is hoping the USDA will kick in, but, in the meantime, she counts on the support of philanthropists, foundations, and volunteers from communities who can help with the edible gardens. To help contribute, visit the Edible Schoolyard Project online.

Albany-based writer, networker, cyclist Sylvia Paull interviewed Katrina Heron on Feb. 5 as part of the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute’s Winter Speaker Series

Meet Katrina Heron: new director of the Edible Schoolyard Project [10.26.12]
Berkeley group has plan to fix school food in Oakland [06.15.12]
School edible programs get reprieve from the feds [06.14.12]
Nikki Henderson: On the frontlines of edible education [08.19.11]
Berkeley’s school lunch program is flawed, say insiders [02.14.11]
After Berkeley, school lunches will never be the same [02.02.11]
Berkeley Bites: Alice Waters [10.22.10]

Follow Berkeleyside NOSH at berkeleyside.com/nosh, on Twitter at @ebnosh, and on Facebook.

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  • Are you sure that it is 9th grade students? I pretty sure it’s 6th grade.

  • You’re right. It’s been corrected.

  • Truth Sayer

    One bit of history regarding National School Lunch Act was During WW II, many men drafted were deemed unfit to serve because they were undernourished, and many were suffering from malnutrition. Using national security as an instrument, the director of the Selective Service System pushed, and got Truman to enact the National School Lunch Act – Which was suppose to guarantee a hot lunch for all schoolchildren who could not pay. As you might have guess, most of the monies at that time went into the pockets of politicians, whereby, few school children benefited from the Act.

  • busd parent

    The quality of the BUSD lunches has suffered over the past few years and I find it interesting that they are still often touted as the highest standards. My daughter is in 4th grade and when she was in kindergarten the food was much better. My child loves pasta, chicken and pizza at home but won’t touch the stuff at school. The pasta is mushy (overcooked?) and the pizza so bread-y. She surmised that some of the problem is the lunches are cooked off site and trucked over after sitting underwraps for several hours (or “not fresh” in her words). Any thoughts to why this is? What hass changed in the past 4 years?