Friday, April 16, 2010

Book Review: Edible Schoolyard A Universal Idea by Alice Waters

Since books are the second passion of our family (my lovely wife is studying to become a librarian), I have decided to start a semi-regular book review post.  So, here it goes.

The Edible Schoolyard was written by renowned chef Alice Waters with the help of Daniel Duane.  Waters is the co-owner and of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California.  The book is the story of her founding of a garden and kitchen at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, California and is quite an inspirational story.

The school was, and prehaps still is, on Waters route to and from work.  She drove by it everyday along with it's horrid land and concrete ground.  While giving an interview to a local paper about land management, Waters pointed out the school as a way not to manage land.  Little did she know the gravity of her claim, until she received a call from the school principle telling her to put her money where her mouth is, so to speak.  Waters walked the grounds with the principal and  began formulating a plan.  The book continues on about the involvement of faculty and parents and the methods used to get the project off the ground.

A year later, the school hired an Englishman (although that wasn't held against him), David Hawkins, to become the full time gardener for the school.  He began a summer program and employment of every cheap method of building he could muster to get the garden put together.

Year three saw the opening of the kitchen at the school, where students could cook the fruits of their labor.  It was also fascinating to read how the kitchen was used for teaching math and science, as well as humanities classes, where in one example, students learning about Neolithic times would hand grind berries in stone mortars as a type of living history.

Throughout the book, stories of getting kids involved abound.  It's also interesting to read how the adults adapted to life with inner-city school children in order to make the garden a place they could be a part of.

The book continues on in the first half with various stories about the happenings in the school, kitchen and garden, including a visit by the Prince of Wales himself.  The latter half of the book consists of photographs, writings of the children and various other illustrations regarding the garden.

I must say I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  I do love reading about passionate people doing remarkable things and Waters must be considered passionate to accomplish what she has during a time when her type of cooking was not considered mainstream.  The book is not at all preachy, either, saving only the last couple of pages to point out the benefits and obvious reasons projects like this need to occur.  Lastly, it's a quick read giving the reader just enough of a glimpse into the history without bogging down.  Well done.


  1. Sounds like a very interesting book. My boys' school started a vegetable garden last year. They have several raised beds filled with lettuce, radishes, broccoli, beets, etc. which are used by school kitchen. I think, even if harvest is just symbolic, it's important for kids to understand that vegetables can be grown by them and their families. No secret that some kids believe that veggies come only from grocery stores.
    Thanks for the review!

  2. Agreed, Tatyana. I saw a speech on where Jamie Oliver, the English chef, showed fresh produce to school children and they couldn't name what type of fruit or vegetable it was. Very sad.

  3. I will have to pick this one up. I fell in love with Alice Waters after watch a segment on her on 60 minutes. She's truly an inspiration.

    I agree, that Jamie Oliver program was VERY disheartening.