Narrator: For most sixth graders the day begins with the shuffling of paper and textbooks.
Beth: And then we're going to put the weeds in a pile and take them to the compost.
Narrator: But In this outdoor classroom at Martin Luther King Middle School in Berkeley, California students spend their first period planting.
Teacher: Put it in. That's it.
Beth: Try that one.
Narrator: And eating organic delights from their edible schoolyard.
Beth: Boy these are figs, don't tell anyone.
Esther: Look at this! Now, where do you think this came from?
Students: The garden.
Esther: Right out there. So we're making little pumpkin pies.
Narrator: The garden and the adjacent kitchen classroom are learning labs for social studies.
Esther: And this is a variety from France. The name of this is "musique de Provence". And that means the "music of Provence".
Esther: If it calls for one and one-half cups of cooked pumpkin and we're doubling the recipe, then how much do we need?
Student: Why is it wet?
Beth: We've just been studying this.
Student: Oh yeah the rain-
Student: Oh yeah.
Beth: The water cycle. What part of the water cycle? Why are there droplets?
Narrator: And life.
Teacher: We're also going to add some of the manure from that pile over there.
Fritjof: When you watch these kids in the garden classes you see that the teachers just use every little drop of water or dew and every plant and every bed to teach.
Beth: It likes each other because it's attracted. Surface tension.
Student: Look at the size of my drop!
Beth: We've been studying that water molecules have a special bond that creates surface tension and so we've been doing a series of experiments in the classroom so it's nice to sort of see if you can play with it someplace else.
Fritjof: It seems effortless but it isn't. It's a high art. It's almost like an artist who is a master violinist. It takes years and years of practice.
Teacher: You understand?
Fritjof: So this is where we come in with the Center for Ecoliteracy. We train teachers and it takes a lot of preparation to make the garden the center of teaching, because what you see here, is only part of it goes on in the classroom.
Teacher: Does anyone remember why we turn the compost pile?
Hector: So the FBI could breathe and stuff.
Teacher: What's FBI?
Hector: The fungus, bacteria, insects.
The compost. I like it because there are a lot of bugs and stuff and I didn't know like these little leaves it's kind of like you turn it, it kind of dries out and then like about one month it kind of soil. It becomes soil and we learned the cycle of compost. First it becomes kind of a plant, then it becomes kind of dry, and the dry becomes kind of soil, then it becomes soil and then you grow something and you start it over.
Fritjof: They are learning first of all the basics of ecology. They are learning about photosynthesis, the cycling of matter, the diversity that supports resilience of an ecosystem but what they also learning is to cooperate, to do projects together, to build community. Another important thing is that the kid who is brilliant in math or science or languages will not necessarily be brilliant in gardening. And somebody who is not very articulate but is very good with her hands or his hands, will be very happy in the garden and will gain in prestige among the class community.
Teacher: So this is very hot. Be careful. Okay pour it all in. Now mix it together very quickly.
Narrator: The edible schoolyard concept is the brainchild of Alice Waters who runs the renowned Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley.
Alice: I love them when they're mixed in.
Narrator: She originally conceived the garden back in 1994 as a way to improve on school lunch programs.
Alice: This is a delicious revolution that we're talking about. This isn't hard to do. If they grow it, they cook it, they want to eat it and that there's a whole range of foods that kids love.
Teacher: You see just making it hot, just toasting it gives it a different flavor.
Alice: The kids have been captivated by this experience and you see them looking and smelling and tasting and they don't think that this is school, yet we know what they're learning and it's very, very fundamental, important information. They all know how to make a vinaigrette for a salad. They all know what it is to set a table and to ask people to come and sit down and eat together and talk at the table. They're learning these values of concentration and generosity.
Esther: Beautiful. I'm going to bring it right over here. Put it down.
I think for our students the biggest benefit is being able to come to their senses literally.
Student: It tastes like cinnamon. It gives you like a warm feeling right here when you eat it because it's nice and warm.
Student: Yeah, just kind of inside.
Student: It's really nice.
Esther: I think that it's almost a sign of the times that we have a program like this to teach things that are so basic that people used to learn at home from their own families and that's really not happening now, and it's a very dangerous thing to be that cut off from where your food comes from, knowing where it is grown, how did it get to wherever you buy it from, and it completes a circle for a lot of students who don't know the least little thing about nature and farming and they get to see that whole cycle and not just see it, but make it happen. They're the ones that are driving the garden. They're the ones that come in and make it all happen in the kitchen.
Teacher: For closing circle the question is one word that describes your favorite part of the garden this season.
Student: Growing everything.
Fritjof: In middle school they are just at the transition between childhood and adolescence.
Student: The colors.
Fritjof: And there's still a lot of the sense of magic in those children.
Student: Riding on a wheelbarrow.
Fritjof: And when they come to the garden especially their garden which they have planted and built themselves they own that sense of magic and so it is a very, very special place.
Narrator: For more information on what works in public education go to edutopia.org.