I would wager a month’s salary that school cafeterias have never received the level of public attention that they have been granted since the first season of ABC’s Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, which aired in 2010. Since then, ABC has aired a second season of the show, focused on schools in Los Angeles instead of the first season’s Huntington, West Virginia. Both seasons of the program provided buckets of footage shot inside cafeterias and treated actual cafeteria workers as characters in a drama—some were villains who resisted change while others were heroes who soldiered on against obstacles presented by USDA regulations, school administrators, and basic economic realities.
Not to be left out, the Food Network has aired shows featuring cafeteria workers. Chopped, for instance, pitted four “cafeteria ladies” against each other to see who could produce the best appetizer, entrée, and dessert with ingredients commonly found in school cafeterias.
With such attention being paid to school lunches, cafeterias, and the like, it has also become apparent to me that schools are increasingly adopting school garden programs that provide at least a part of the produce their cafeterias prepare. My wife recently saw an outstanding example of this at Arcadia Elementary in Spartanburg, SC. When she told me about what was happening there, I wanted to know more about school gardening. As it turns out, the South Carolina Department of Agriculture has a School Gardens Program, as do many other states. In California, the School Gardens Program is sponsored by the state’s Department of Education.
While most states seem to have similar programs, school gardening is also supported by a number of impressive nonprofit groups like Real School Gardens (based in North Texas), Food Corps (operating in 10 states including North Carolina) and the California School Garden Network. The CGSN is especially impressive for its resources on using gardens as teaching tools that show teachers how garden-based lessons can help teachers meet state educational standards. As long as I am doing “teacher-speak,” I should also point out that at least one group of experts has already figured out how school gardens can be put to use in meeting Common Core State Standards (note for non-educators: The Common Core State Standards are a new set of educational goals that have been adopted across the United States except in Alaska, Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia).
As I often suggest in this blog, there are many things related to food and agriculture that are deeply disconcerting, but this attention that has been paid to school lunches, school gardening, and the value of food and gardening to curricular issues—all of this is undoubtedly good news.
If your schools have gardens, share your story below!