As I conclude my semester interning with the Berkeley Unified Gardening and Cooking Program, I am sad to see it ending. I’ve loved being in the world of elementary school, especially in the garden; it’s been wonderful to forget the stresses of being a full time UC Berkeley student in favor of hunting down cabbage eating inchworms, dressing up as a scarecrow to walk in the Halloween parade, and getting my hands in the dirt with twenty or so willing participants at a time. My Mondays and Wednesdays the past four months have been sweetened by kids’ laughter, monarch butterflies, and the feet stomping excitement that comes with the announcement of that week’s “Garden Snack.”
If we want all students to reach the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (self-actualization), how can we expect them to achieve this without meeting the lowest level of the hierarchy (basic physiological needs)? In California, 20 percent of K-12 students are in poverty and 21 percent are food insecure. I have been an education policy nerd for years; in high school, I loved immersing myself in student government, leadership roles in my school district, and working with statewide educational non-profits. Through my food systems engagement project, I wanted to channel my longtime passion for education with my newfound passion for food justice. I delved into studying what programs and policies exist to ensure a students’ access to food with support from the Berkeley Food Institute.
This semester I interned with Berkeley Unified School District at Malcolm X Elementary in the school garden. Everyday that I went into the garden, I got showered with children, plants, and food. The entire experience was so absolutely positive and I want to share one of my final days in the garden with you. One of my personal goals for this project was to effectively communicate complex science in a simple manner to young students. Upon discussing this with the garden teacher Rivka, she suggested that I design a lesson plan about leguminous nitrogen fixation. The third graders planted a crop of fava beans in the fall, so this felt like the perfect opportunity to connect with that experience and talk about soil health.
Middle school is an interesting age, where students are discovering themselves and their love of food systems. Although they may not express that love directly, having a Garden and Nutrition Program to give access to essential information at such a formative age is necessary and important. Working at Longfellow Middle School was an amazing experience. This unique internship stems from a partnership between the Berkeley Food Institute and the Berkeley Unified School District to connect UC Berkeley students to intern for either garden based learning, nutrition instruction, or both, as was my case in elementary and middle schools. The teacher that I worked with, Ellen McClure, was in charge of both the school’s gardens and teaching the nutrition classes, which gave our program a nice balance to bring in some of the fruits, vegetables, and herbs that we grew into the classroom to incorporate into our recipes.
For my community engagement project, I decided to to take on being a garden intern through the Berkeley Unified School District. I worked at Thousand Oaks Elementary School, and then halfway through I started to also intern at Oxford Elementary as well. When I first began working at Thousand Oaks, I thought to myself not only what I would get out of this experience, but also what positive impact I could leave with these students. With those thoughts, I didn’t know what my duties would actually include while being an intern.
This spring I interned at Berkeley Unified Public School District’s Gardening and Cooking Program. I worked in the Cooking & Nutrition curriculum, which takes the form of after-school sessions; one part nutrition lesson, one part healthy hands-on cooking. I split my time between John Muir Elementary and Thousand Oaks Elementary, with kindergarten through third grade classes. After four months of “Can you go wash your hands again?” and, “Don’t yuck my yum,” here is the biggest lesson I have learned: Kids are powerful.
Community-engaged land-use planning at Smyth-Fernwald
I work as a student manager at the Clark Kerr Garden. This space is unique because it intersects many lives: from seniors in affordable-housing apartments, campus faculty, and preschoolers, to first-year college students and dining hall staff. This fall I decided to continue a project focused on a single tract of land next to Clark Kerr. In contrast to the space where I have been pruning trees, planting starts, and saving seed for the past three years, Smyth-Fernwald is a rather underutilized sloping plot with bordering oaks and an abandoned building. But the history of the land is fascinating. Just 4 years ago, there were faculty and their families living here, along with a daycare center and a small community garden. And in the early 1900s there were large gardens and an orchard. Before that, cattle grazed the open grassland. Even before that, the Chochenyo Ohlone inhabited the East Bay and likely utilized Derby Creek which runs along the northern border. In this same space that is now dusty and usually empty, we know there can be something productive and beneficial to the people, and restorative for the entire ecosystem.
For those who don’t already know what I did for my project, here’s the deal: in September I got the Berkeley Food Institute (BFI) newsletter that had a list of cool opportunities for students or graduates. I saw that Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) was taking applications for interns in the garden or nutrition departments, and I decided to apply. In high school I did my senior project (a highly involved and rigorous research paper and thorough presentation) on garden and nutrition education in elementary schools in America, so I was psyched to have this opportunity to engage directly with the topics I’d previously only researched! I applied on the spot and was accepted by Ellen at Longfellow Middle School as a garden intern.