Imagine yourself in fourth grade, craving a snack, but instead of buying a bag of chips or maybe a chocolate chip cookie in the cafeteria, you sneak out to a garden and grab an Asian pear to munch on.
In Gravesend, Brooklyn, N.Y., elementary school children can do just that. On Nov. 12, Edible Schoolyard NYC completed its first Edible Schoolyard at Public School 216: a half-acre garden, 763 square feet of greenhouse space, and 1,075 square feet of kitchen and office space. The last component of the garden — the greenhouse/kitchen space — previewed yesterday, and will be in full use this January.
Modeling their work after Alice Water's Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, Calif., the architects at WORKac have been conceptualizing the space since 2009. "In Berkeley you had an abundance of space and climate. In New York it was the exact opposite. It was much more about density," Dan Wood of WORKac said.
School gardens, however, aren't (historically) an anomaly in New York City; the first school garden was opened in 1901 by Fannie Griscom Parsons at De Witt Clinton Park. (The first school garden in America was opened in 1891 at the Putnam School in Boston).
Following the first New York City school garden, the number simply grew; a New York Times article reported that in 1925, 99 New York City public elementary schools had a garden. By 1931, 302 schools reported a garden, with 65 acres of the city put toward educating children about gardening, nutrition, and food.
While growth continued for a little longer, however, school gardens lost popularity as need for parking spaces grew. "We literally had to explain why a garden is better than a parking lot when we went in front of the community board," Wood said.
Now, there are 347 gardens, out of more than 1,700 schools. Gravesend, Brooklyn, with the lowest percentage of open green space in Brooklyn, was a prime choice for Edible Schoolyard. The garden, transformed from a parking lot, was planted in 2010 and now reaps more than 2,000 pounds of produce in 2013. The greenhouse, in the meantime, houses a growing area for indoor gardening classes through the winter. And the kitchen space completes the process, allowing a space for children to learn how to prep and cook the produce.
Naturally, the program isn't stopping there; Edible Schoolyard NYC just broke ground at P.S./M.S. 7 in East Harlem, New York City. The second Edible Schoolyard will feature a rooftop greenhouse, as well as ground-level plots and a kitchen area. "Eventually we have a goal of one school in each borough," Wood said.