Moomah the Magazine
The Edible Schoolyard NYC

The Edible Schoolyard NYC

- Tracey Stewart

We all get asked all the time to help make a difference by making a donation, volunteering our time, or helping to spread the word for worthy causes. Finding the time and figuring out where to put your energy is never easy.  Over a year ago, I had the privilege of hearing philosopher Vandana Shiva give a presentation about her environmental work. She spoke about how our issues with food were at the root of all our world problems. She truly inspired me. The time to act was now! Of course "now"  meant a year later for me. I still hadn't even been able to remember to pack my kid's lunches on field trip days. I didn’t have time to go undercover, join marches, visit third world countries or tie myself to trees. How was I going to make a difference?  The Edible Schoolyard NYC came to my rescue. Fortunately beyond helping me, they help thousands of wonderful little bundles of need everyday!

At the beginning of the year we introduced our Make Nice Mission and its goal to provide busy parents and curious kids with fun, easy ways to give back and participate in their communities and their world. Who better to start our new mission off then The Edible Schoolyard NYC!!

The Edible Schoolyard NYC program is an affiliate of Alice Water’s original west coast initiative, established on the east coast in 2010. It aims to provide students in low-income areas of the city the hands-on knowledge, skills and environment needed to cook, cultivate a garden, plant seeds, and learn healthy eating habits that hope to bring a solution to the childhood obesity epidemic across the nation. Founder Alice Water’s believes that every child needs to “be taken to a garden and be able to put hands in the Earth.”

We sat under the trees at P.S. 216 in Brooklyn with the students of the Edible Schoolyard. They shared their drawings, their knowledge and their admiration for the earth and its delicious, fragile treats. In return, we shared new teaching materials- visuals and riddles for the scavenger hunt portion of their curriculum, a prettied worm worksheet and a seed packet design to rock their next fundraiser.

Here is a brief overview of our day at the Edible Schoolyard NYC.


An old cement parking lot was transformed into a half-acre organic garden to be used by the teachers and students of P.S. 216 in the Gravesend area of Brooklyn, a neighborhood with only two public gardens and very limited green space. Since our visit was in December, the garden was starting to look dormant. Little did we know there was still so much life happening amongst the garden beds!

We were lucky enough to get a tour of the garden by a very special guide. Adorable fifth-grader and gardening enthusiast, Bailey, took the lead and began showing us around the garden.

Bailey's knowledge and love for the garden had us mesmorized. Not only did she know the names of more fruits and vegetables than we could count, but she actually said she likes eating them all! Can you imagine your kids choosing to eat fennel salad at the cafeteria lunch bar?

Our tour of the garden began as Bailey walked us through the planting beds. She showed us how they mulch the beds with cocoa husks that actually smell like chocolate! Her favorite part of the garden was the corner where the herbs grow. Bailey broke off some lemon sorrel and passed pieces around for us all to chew on. She talked about the different herbs and spices that they grow in the garden and mentioned the vegetable dyeing activity that she loves. Bailey said that Amaranth was the best to use for dye because the color comes out so bright. We decided to give it a try in our own time!

We wondered through the garden once more and stopped at another one of Bailey's favorite spots: “The orchard is my second favorite spot in the garden. There are usually pears everywhere! I didn’t know there were so many types of pears. One time I ate six in class! The chojuro pears are my favorite, they are a little sweeter.”

  Left: The cabbage patch was one of the few full beds in the garden during our visit in cold December. Middle: Bailey points out the cocoa mulch covering the garden beds. Right: A lone chojuro pear still hangs off a branch in the orchard.

Next, Bailey took us over to the huge compost bins along the edge of the garden. We loved seeing how the program is teaching the students to use the garden to make their own compost. They spend a few sessions getting to know the busy worker worms and learn why they are so important for plant and vegetable growth. Bailey explained the process to us and made us more curious. We did our research and found out some very interesting facts about the slimy little creatures in our gardens. Have a look here at what we learned about worms >>

 Left: The compost bins stand at the edge of the garden for the students to deposit the scraps remaining from the kitchen classroom. Right: Bailey explains the composting process and gives us a little peek at the worms working away in the bins.

During our tour, one of the Kindergarden classes began to take place in the garden. The sweet tiny green thumbs distracted us as they marched around as a garden train, exploring the garden with their five senses. We couldn’t help but stop and peek over their shoulders as they plugged away drawing still-lifes of the root vegetables they had learned about in fall. 

Above: The Kindergarten class takes a tour to see which vegetables are still growing strong and which are dying down in the winter season.


The dedicated kitchen classroom is one of the final developments for the flagship school. Though it wasn't quite up and running during our visit, what we saw was a dream. Filled with light and bright colored walls, it's a place with a cheerful purpose. A true oasis in the heart of Brooklyn. The color palette changes around the room to represent the seasons as they change through the year.

Designed to be as sustainable as possible, the entrance to the building houses a bright blue water cylinder that is used to collect rainwater. The water runs into the greenhouse and not only helps to water the plants, but also teaches the students about the water cycle.

On the other side of the kitchen stands the greenhouse. The greenhouse is such a great addition to the building, as its bright and warm interior allows students to work in the garden year round. In the greenhouse the students learn to plant from seed, take potting lessons and experiment growing non-native plants that are unable to be planted outside due to the climate.

The greenhouse also allows herbs to be grown all year round, providing the students with a fresh garden ingredient to use in their kitchen throughout the winter months.

  Left: The new kitchen classroom is ready to be used. Middle: Small potted plants are growing strong in the Greenhouse. Right: An illustrated demonstration of the water cycle is displayed in the Greenhouse classroom.

TIME TO SEE A CLASS IN ACTION! WE WALKed UP four flights of stairs to the current KITCHEN CLASSROOM where a kindergarten class was in session.

Everything about the kitchen classroom was so sweet and perfect. Around the room were shelves filled with cooking equipment. A beautiful chalkboard stood along the back wall displaying gorgeous illustrations of delicious fruits and veggies. There were handwritten recipes posted on the doors, some written by students in class and others reflections written at home.

As the lesson for the kinders began, the teacher read her introductory book, Time To Sleep, to the students. The story marched through the garden as it changed from season to season, leading the students to think about winter vegetables and the one leafy green that stays strong all winter long: Kale.

When it was time to get moving, the kids all knew just what to do. They went over to their spots at the kitchen table and began to cook! They juiced their oranges, chopped their kale and mashed their garlic. The students took their turns shaking the dressing and preparing their dishes with the help of their teachers and the volunteer classroom parents. We couldn’t believe our eyes as these tiny chefs set the table for their meal, thanked the garden and the chefs, and started to gobble down their KALE! Take a closer look at their cooking lesson here >>

 Left: The Kindergarten students are hard at work preparing their "raw greens" in the kitchen classroom. Right: Eager students answer questions about winter vegetables. 

There was a little reading nook in the corner, full of old classics we had forgotten about. Wonders of Nature, Planting a Rainbow and so many more! We loved seeing the students surrounded by vintage literature, cookbooks and inspiration. To us it was just the perfect learning environment.

The teachers and volunteers in the classroom were so patient and friendly. The students were treated with respect and were encouraged to complete all the steps themselves. In the end, they were praised for their good work and reminded of what had happened: “You just turned plants that you grew in your own garden into food. How cool is that?!”

  Left: A vintage copy of Little Garden Books Classic, "Wonders of Nature," sits in the book corner. Middle: A delicious plate of kale salad made by a Kindergarten student in class. Right: Some of the beautiful natural inspiration displayed around the classroom.

One touching experience that we got to witness was the effect of the program on one particular little student. Having only been at the school for five days (with no ability to speak or understand English) this sweet little girl cried and cried from the moment she entered the classroom. Scared and unsure of what was going on, she was reluctant to take part in the lesson all together. She cried all the way through story time and cried some more when the students went over to their kitchen table. But then an amazing thing happened. A parent volunteer lead her to her own spot by the kitchen table and handed her an orange and a juicer. Suddenly, she stopped crying.

Once we left we got an update from the school that this little girl was spotted in the kitchen classroom again later on that day. When the teacher was asked why she was doing the lesson for a second time, she explained that being by the cooking table was the only time the poor girl had stopped crying for the last five days, so they brought her back! Just shows the power of the international language of food!


The Edible Schoolyard NYC not only provides students at the school a chance to do some gardening, but it serves the community as well. They offer resources and events for parents and the greater school community, including monthly family cooking nights, community garden workdays and a community farmstand. They also provide budding gardeners a chance to volunteer their time and services. 

One special volunteer we had the pleasure of meeting was "Tomato Joe." Joe has lived in the Gravesend neighborhood by PS. 216 his entire life and even attended the school himself in his younger years. Today, Joe is the garden's oldest volunteer. He grows his own tomatoes, saving his seeds from previous crops to grow more. The school has given him a small patch to grow his own tomatoes because he likes to demonstrate how productive and satisfying gardening in a typical small lawn or yard can be. He shares the harvest enormously with the school and the students. Joe seems to be the perfect real-life example for the kids of someone who takes care of his garden, grows his own food and eats it, too.

Just as we were about to head off for the day, we got one last pleasant surprise. Moomah Cafe alumni, Michael Abourizk, popped his head up out of the garden bed! A weekly volunteer, we were so excited to see Michael and learn that he is just one of the good people in this world donating his personal time for a great cause and a beautiful project. We weren't surprised by his generosity, but were very proud to say the least!!

  Left: "Tomato Joe" stopped working on his garden to have a quick chat with us. Middle: Joe's very own garden needs its own sign! Left: Garden volunteer, Michael Abourizk, strikes a pose with his garden clippers.



While your children may not all be able to take part in the program themselves, we have teamed up with the Edible Schoolyard NYC team to bring some parts of the program to you at home.

Take a look through our stories and see how you can easily take a few fun activities from the program and implement them into your home life. Get your kids thinking about their vegetables, about the little creatures they see in their gardens and about the food they are being fed.

Finally, help your kids to do their part in spreading the word about the program and become small activists in their own community. Allow them to spread the word about the importance of a healthy lifestyle and the benefits of growing food.



Posted in: Discover & Learn   In the Garden   Make A Difference   

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