This semester I partnered with Berkeley Unified School District and helped maintained the student gardens used for their nutrition and gardening program. I believe that connecting people to their food, starting at such a young age, leads to healthier and more sustainable generations. Its not everywhere kids have the opportunity to connect with the Earth and get their hands dirty, and it is so important to building an appreciation for the world around you. The biggest thing I learned and want to take with me into my career in the agri-food system would be to maintain the simple sense of wonder and curiosity that children have. Always ask questions and always want to learn new things!
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.”
The students of Experiential Learning through Food Systems do impactful and thought-provoking work. This semester, I had the honor of working on a project that will help share their stories and hopefully inspire others. The most digestible way to do this was as a series of short videos.
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.
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.