The Benevolent Bounty of Bakersfield

The Benevolent Bounty Of Bakersfield

Fri 24 Feb 2012

Story by Andrea Beenham
 

In the small Southern California City of Bakersfield, a place generally synonymous with oil and gas work and country music, something magical is unfolding. This is not the hocus pocus or voodoo sort, but rather the magic of the human spirit and the quiet power of possibility.

While exploring ways to lessen the gap in local education (a cause her family has been passionate about for years and the driving force behind the Grimm Family Education Foundation she founded), Barbara Grimm-Marshall (co-owner of Grimmway Farms) was astonished to learn that Kern County was leading the Californian race towards childhood obesity and diabetes. Barbaraís family have worked in the farming industry for well over three decades and therefore it seemed like a natural segway to explore a marriage between the two.

While discussing the discovery with her daughters, one of them mentioned Berkley's Edible Schoolyard (a project started in 1995 by Alice Waters, a woman arguably considered the founder of the organic produce and fresh-and-local food movement). After a tour of the Berkeley facility, it was quickly apparent what Ms. Grimm-Marshall wanted to do, and what began as a seemingly random conversation between mother and daughter has evolved into an intellectual and nutritional, while somehow very gentle, local revolution.

With the unwavering support of the Panama-Buena Vista School District and Superintendent, Kipp Hearron, the Buena Vista Elementary School Edible Schoolyard had its grand opening on October 8, 2011. The Berkeley Schoolyard lent support with training and guidance, and Alice Waters, herself, was in attendance.

In speaking with Mr. Hearron, he expressed his astonishment at how quickly the project has evolved, especially given that the Berkeley schoolyard took 6 to 9 years to start producing food, while the Buena Vista schoolyard has only taken about 15 months. This coming May will be the 2-year mark from when he, along with trainees for the project, visited the Berkeley garden for the start of training.

"We are amazed - I am amazed - as we look at the process and what actually exists now. Our kids are having fun with it and itís a great way for kids to learn. We are very fortunate." (Kip Hearron, Panama-Buena Vista District Superintendent)

The project includes various fruits and vegetable patches, a herb garden, butterfly garden, bee garden, chicken coup, learning kitchen, composting facilities, and an outdoor seating area for the children to attend lectures and prepare for lessons.

All 900 students from Buena Vista have now rotated through the garden and kitchen classroom. Each class attends for about 1 hour a week for 3 or 4-week rotations. One block of rotations is in the garden, and 1 takes place in the student kitchen, where they are taught about the foods they have planted and harvested, as well as how to prepare them.

Academic learning has been enriched in sharing the history of the foods and the associated regional languages and culture, as well as the math and cooking skills being absorbed throughout the seeding, tending and harvesting of the plants, along with preparation of the food. Many children have already begun taking what they are learning home to their families. The school garden website includes recipes and food ideas to engage students outside of the classroom.

"When the children are involved in the planting, tending, then the cultivating and preparing - they are far more likely to want to eat it. It is very exciting to see them try things that they normally wouldn't. They have a far greater appreciation of the food." (Brandie Haining, Buena Vista Elementary School Principal)

The Grimm Family Education Foundation has committed on-going support to maintain facility operations Ė including 6 full-time employees (a manager, assistant, and teacher for each of the garden and the kitchen classroom). Staff review lesson plans ahead of time to support teachers with their curriculum, and parent volunteers have also been helping out with on-site class rotations.

I asked Ms. Grimm-Marshall what she was most pleased with and proud of. Her response included being thrilled at the eagerness and enthusiasm of all of the children, saying that they look forward to their lessons and are keen to jump in when they arrive. She also stated that all of the staff, and especially the school's teachers, have been outstanding and very supportive. What I am most proud of, she said, is

"to be building an educational program that the children are pleased with and to engage them in a curriculum that builds lifelong skills and enriches the future of their community". (Barbara Grimm-Marshall)

The next project, Grimmway Academy, a purpose-built charter school in the farming community of Arvin (24 miles S.E. of Bakersfield), opened its doors this Fall. Planting for the Academyís edible garden has begun and the hope is to have the garden and learning kitchen finished and incorporated into the curriculum for the 2012/2013 school year.

About the author: Passionate about health and nutrition, music, travel and writing, Andrea is a spunky married mother of two young boys currently living in Bakersfield, California. An aspiring writer and vocalist, she can be reached via e-mail at andreabeenham@gmail.com

For more information, please visit Grimmway Academy Charter School website, Buena Vista Elementary Schoolyard website and Berkeley Edible Schoolyard website.

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