Erika Dimmler, "Edible Sac High" project manager, said chef Alice Waters saw Sacramento's agricultural history as a key factor.

Q&A: Local manager reviews chef Alice Waters' project 'Edible Sac High'

Published: Monday, Feb. 11, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B

Renowned Berkeley chef Alice Waters wanted to transplant her concept of "edible schoolyards" throughout the nation – and a school in Oak Park in Sacramento became the beneficiary.

In October, the Edible Schoolyard Project was born at Sacramento Charter High School. Modeled after an edible schoolyard project started by Waters at a middle school in Berkeley 16 years ago, "Edible Sac High" is operated by grants, donations and fundraising. Mayor Kevin Johnson's Greenwise clean-technology initiative is coordinating the program.

About 100 students at the Oak Park school are building a garden. Eventually students will run the garden and a campus cafeteria, and a kitchen classroom will be added for food preparation and cooking classes.

Erika Dimmler, project manager for Edible Sac High and a fellow of Johnson's Greenwise program, said Sacramento High is the only edible schoolyard program for a high school nationwide. Waters hopes to use the Sacramento site as a pilot program for other high schools in the country.

What motivated chef Alice Waters to expand her model into Sacramento?

She liked Sacramento because it is the state capital, and she has a working relationship with Gov. Jerry Brown and Mayor Johnson. Many of her agricultural and food friendships are in the Sacramento area. And Sacramento has a history of being an agricultural hub. It was a natural fit, because farming is such an important part of Sacramento's history, and there are people in the community who feel passionately about that and want to continue that heritage. We also plan to be involved with the region's new Farm to Fork program, which is encouraging smaller local farms to supply produce to area restaurants and grocery stores.

How does the Edible Schoolyard Project and Edible Sac High work?

The program starts with a garden, then curriculum integration, and a full-scale working kitchen classroom. Then we take it a step further. The vision is for students to learn how to run a cafeteria. They will be reaching out to farmers, creating relationships with community members and business people, creating budgets and menus of food to be served in the cafeteria to their peers.

What has been accomplished since the launch of Edible Sac High?

Since groundbreaking, we've built a garden of just less than a half-acre. We've planted Swiss chard, kale, herbs, and have already started on seedlings for spring, including watermelon, carrots, wheat grass, and lettuces. We are partnering with the UC Davis School of Landscape Architecture to come up with a design plan for the garden space and plantings. We've run a series of events for students on healthy eating, food access and gardening. The students have attended cooking classes at Hyatt Re- gency and the Sacramento Natural Foods Cooperative. We are partnering with the Sacramento Tree Foundation to raise awareness about the importance of trees in the city and school campuses. Students also got to go to Berkeley to see the existing program there.

Any positive surprises?

Even though we don't have a full-scale garden yet, we are starting to see tangible changes in the community, in wellness, in student engagement and leadership that we didn't expect to see this early on. There are so many personal stories of students stepping up in leadership roles, kids helping to spread the word of healthy eating, and taking that home to their families. We have former students coming back to help. Restaurant owners, chefs, businesses, and other nonprofits have made themselves available and given incredible support, advice, resources and ideas.

Why was it important for Waters to expand to a high school model?

The key in high school is identifying those real-world strengths, and drilling down where the students' passion lies. It could change the direction of not only their college choice but their lives. We're creating a pilot not just for Sac High, but the greater Sacramento region, the state and ultimately the nation.

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