On a plot of land at the edge of town, near neat rows of nut trees, is a lush oasis of edible plants — crops like bright green romanesco cauliflower, rainbow chard, vibrant lavender, turnips, rutabaga, bok choy, cabbage and even egg-laying hens.
Child-sized aprons hang on hooks near sinks and cooking utensils in the light-filled indoor kitchen. A pergola in the garden is host to flowering vines and ready to shelter eager learners, enticing them to find a seat on a bale of hay.
A group of giddy children file in a line and cross the street from their elementary school. These children visit the garden as part of their regular school week. They’re lucky, and they know it.
Students explore concepts in traditional subjects like math, science, english and history while gaining softer skills like environmental stewardship, seasonality, food preparation, table manners, personal expression, active learning, collaboration and cooperation, nutrition and wellness. These skills easily translate to their life outside of school, and studies show that children in edible education programs make healthier food and lifestyle choices throughout their life.
Kern County is the number one agricultural producer in the world. The latest report lists the gross value for all ag commodities produced in Kern County at $7.19 billion. Meanwhile, our community deals with some of the highest rates of obesity; we’re second highest among all California counties. These statistics should not coexist in the same place, but they do.
In addition to the personal costs of obesity, it puts a strain on other resources. There are economic impacts. Overweight and obese employees cost employers more. Healthcare expenses are exponentially higher.
One approach to solve this problem is to start with children.
The Buena Vista Edible Schoolyard, an organic garden and learning kitchen, serves students at Buena Vista Elementary and is one of multiple programs developed by the Grimm Family Education Foundation, a pioneering non-profit based in Bakersfield. (The Foundation also developed gardens at Grimmway Academy Shafter and Grimmway Academy Arvin. At these charter schools, the programs are fully integrated into the school’s curriculum and culture.) Modeled after the work of Alice Waters and The Edible Schoolyard Project in Berkeley, the Foundation works to encourage children in their discovery and development of a healthy relationship with the food they eat.
The edible education movement in Bakersfield is growing. And these gardens are more than a place for children to get their hands dirty and learn to prepare healthy meals. Progressive education models like these are a catalyst for economic development. It is surprisingly difficult to attract talented professionals in our community in the technology, healthcare and engineering fields. Our high quality of life in Bakersfield is not readily apparent to outsiders. Unique education environments, like the one experienced by children every day at the Buena Vista Edible Schoolyard, enable outsiders to view our city as a breeding ground for progressive thought leaders, a place filled with change-agents, not just dismal statistics.
The mere existence of an edible schoolyard in Bakersfield — let alone the three created by the Grimm Education Foundation — shifts the conversation here.
In an effort to share their magical space with the public, the Buena Vista garden hosts an annual plant sale. Through this event, they celebrate food, plants and community, and raise awareness about their unique program. They encourage guests to purchase plants at the sale (all proceeds go back into the Buena Vista Edible Schoolyard Program), plant their own garden, tend to it, and then enjoy their fruits of their labor by eating locally and seasonally.
“We want people to see and taste real food and see how simple and delicious it can be,” explains Kelly Atkinson, the Edible Schoolyard Program's administrator. At the plant sale, they not only sell vegetables, flowers and herbs (planted and cared for by their students), but they also offer house-made food, including wood-fired pizza, fresh baked bread, garden salad, granola cookies, student-guided tours, raffle prizes, kids' yoga, and arts and crafts.
Full disclaimer: I used to work for the Grimm Family Foundation, and it’s an organization with a mission I care deeply about. I am proud of the trailblazing work they continue to do in our community.
• New cooks in The Kitchen: Recently, Richard Yoshimura, Jeramy Brown and Dr. Hemmal Kothary have taken over The Kitchen, a business on 20th Street downtown, which offers cooking classes and hosts private parties. The trio has big plans to expand their offerings and, possibly, the space. I recently attended a lunch there (we had baked ziti and salted cookies) and was thoroughly impressed with the new energy. I’ve heard whispers about a pasta-making class in the near future. Sign me up.
• Bakersfield food scene heats up: Speaking of good food, with over 12,400 followers, the @bakersfieldfoodie Instagram account highlights the best of local restaurants. A few recent posts included dishes at personal favorites, Locale Farm to Table Eatery (cowboy tacos), Luigi’s (caprese salad) and Jin Sushi (spicy rainbow roll). Follow them, but my advice: don’t scroll through the account while you’re hungry!
• Greek news: The downtown location of Athena’s Greek Cafe recently added breakfast items to the menu, including omelets and french toast. It’s another great excuse to skip the cold cereal.
• Summer plans: Registration for the popular Edible Schoolyard Summer Camp opens April 9 at 9 a.m. It typically sells out within an hour. Visit esykerncounty.org/summercamp for more information.
• Mailbag: My previous column ("More evidence about why downtown matters," Feb. 26) got a ton of reader response encouraging the use of my child as an excuse for being late to events, including the State of the Downtown Breakfast. Thanks for the moral support, guys. This weary new mom appreciates it.
Anna Smith writes a weekly column about Bakersfield business. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The opinions expressed are her own.