Students at Malcolm X Elementary School in Berkeley are gaining some important life lessons, learning the elements of getting their hands dirty in a garden and then producing healthy food.
The young horticulturists in training showed visitors on Monday how to make a “weedo,” a burrito-style veggie-wrap made up of herbs held together by a lettuce leaf.
The garden at Malcolm X Elementary has been in existence for 15 years, and recently received a grant from the Western Growers Foundation (WG) and the American Cancer Society (ACS) for $1,500.
Malcolm X is one of 900 schools in California and Arizona that have received these grants to support gardening programs.
The Western Grower’s Foundation and the American Cancer Society committed $100,000 in the last year to raise awareness about cancer prevention, healthy eating options, and obesity.
According to the organizations, the majority of American children go without a single serving of fruit or vegetables each day.
Each year, 84,000 cancer diagnosis are made that are linked with obesity, according to the National Cancer Institute.
By 2030, obesity rates are predicted to be at 44 percent. The current generation of elementary-age students is at risk of becoming the first to have a lower life expectancy than their parents, according to the American Heart Association.
Rivka Mason, gardening coordinator at Malcolm X, has been working on the project since 2000.
Describing why gardening is so important for youth, Mason mentioned the term Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD).
NDD was coined by Richard Louv in 2005 as a way to label the increasing disconnect between youth and nature.
“The average fourth grader can name up to 100 corporate logos, but they can’t name the tree in their backyard – if they’re lucky to have one,” said Mason.
When Mason asked a former student where the child thought food came from, the response was: “from underneath Safeway.”
The garden at Malcolm X provides an excellent opportunity for students to reconnect with nature, and the food supply, Mason explained. “I’m all about having access to compost, planting, digging, and food. Unstructured time in nature – where else can you have that?”
Mason went on to explain that intergenerational instruction between students creates an entirely unique culture based around plants. “These names for plants like happy flower, cheese, and weedo have been named for an entire generation,” Mason said.
“A kindergartener once described their experience to me, and said, ‘When we grow our own food, it tastes better.’ And that’s what this garden is all about,” sad Mason.
“When they have ownership over what they’re growing, they eat it and it tastes better.”