Students were excited to learn about worms and the environment they live during a class session at the Buena Vista Edible Schoolyard. 

The Edible Schoolyard at Buena Vista Elementary is a hands-on learning experience that teaches students where their food comes from while creating a sense of appreciation and respect for nature and the gardening and cooking processes. The program aims to empower students by encouraging them to take initiative, step out of their comfort zones and bear responsibility for their work, what they put into their bodies and how they impact the earth.

Barbara Grimm-Marshall founded and modeled Edible Schoolyard Kern County after the nationwide initiative the Edible Schoolyard Project. Dylan Wilson, the program manager, said it is the only one of its kind in the San Joaquin Valley.

With agriculture being such an integral part of Kern County, Wilson is taking steps to reach all students in the community. They recently partnered up with the Bakersfield City School District to kick-start the program at McKinley Elementary, and they plan to publish their curriculum to help schools nationwide implement the program.

The initial goal of the program was to curb obesity rates and control the local epidemic because of a lack of wellness education, according to Wilson. For three hours a month, students learn how to produce and nurture a garden and use the fruits and vegetables in a healthy meal with cooking classes.

The push for a lifestyle change, not a diet, has already proven effective.

“We have had parents come to us and say my kid has never eaten kale or never eaten a carrot before and this is the first time I’ve ever seen them even want to try it because they’ve tried it here and now they want to try it at home,” Wilson said. “Our goal is to instill some of this knowledge into the kids, which then they take home and influence their families.”

The program has also proven itself useful beyond dietary changes. Students are learning how to take instruction differently. They take what they learn in the edible schoolyard and apply it in their traditional classroom setting and vice versa.

“We can directly link all of our lessons to a STEM lesson or a Common Core lesson, and through that we are able to enhance what’s being done there, here,” Wilson said.

The lessons they are learning also go beyond the textbook. When the students are immersed in nature for an hour and a half once a month, they learn to respect it. “They have to have respect for people, land and bugs,” Wilson said.

Without going into too much detail and scaring the kids, they also teach them about their impact on the planet and how they can make better choices to preserve it. For example, they take chicken manure and use it as compost instead of buying something they already have at their disposal. Students also learn what makes their ecosystem unique.

“We’re growing things that students know survive and grow and in our region and seasons. A lot of our curriculum and standards are built off of seasonality so they can understand how our own kind of Mediterranean climate works that we live in,” Wilson said.

They not only learn how their own climate works, but they also learn about the hard work that goes into making Bakersfield thrive and shine on a national level.

The students are responsible for what they make and they get out of it what they put in. They are held to a high standard and nothing is adjusted specifically for children.

Knowing that they are trusted empowers them because they feel independent and accomplished because they did it all themselves, the real way. “It’s a unique experience that they are able to see and relate themselves to their own wellness,” Wilson said. 

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