For more than forty years I have owned a restaurant in Berkeley, California called Chez Panisse. From 1971, when we first opened its doors, I wanted to feed people beautiful food, food I idealistically hoped might bring people back into their senses. In time, I realized that the perfect peach could stand for much more than taste alone. The act of eating – one of the few daily activities shared by all human beings – is as much an ecological and political act as it is about the conviviality of the table. I began to see that delicious, thoughtful food, at once essential and pleasurable, could bring our collective awareness back to the earth and to the farmers who care for our land. With this in mind, sixteen years ago I founded the Edible Schoolyard Project. The Edible Schoolyard is located on the campus of Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, a state school serving 1000 urban students, aged eleven through thirteen. The very first thing we did at the school was to transform a derelict parking lot into a one-acre garden. Today it comprises more than one hundred varieties of edible vegetables, fruits, vines and flowers. The garden became the basis of a thriving hands-on curriculum: teachers bring students into the garden for experiential lessons in everything from history to mathematics. The instruction continues in the Kitchen Classroom, an on-site kitchen where students prepare the vegetables and fruits they have harvested from the garden.
The garden gives students who have never seen a plant grow from seed to fruit the opportunity to observe the power of the earth and sun working in concert. In growing their own food, students learn both about stewardship of the land and about how to nourish themselves. The sun is an emblem of this education. Plants are, after all, nature’s perfect repositories of energy: a plant captures the sun and transforms it into another form of usable energy, food. With very little input, a single plant can collect enough energy from the sun to feed dozens of people. Through this edible harvest, the sun is transformed into both a tangible and sociable product. In the Kitchen Classroom the sun’s energy becomes a meal that students cook together and share around a table. I see the Little Sun lamp as an analogue to the plants we grow in the Edible Schoolyard. It too harnesses energy from the sun and transforms it into actionable energy, energy with even greater impact in its second life. The Little Sun lamp takes a resource we all share but so often take for granted, the sun, and invests it with endless potential. Just as the Little Sun offers sunlight for hours beyond sunset, the ears of corn or baskets of apples harvested by the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School students give them back the sun’s energy as sustenance for the body and education for the senses.
Food activist, Chez Panisse and The Edible Schoolyard, Berkeley, CA, USA