Sowing the Seeds of Learning

Event: The New Kid on the Block: The Edible School
Location: Center for Architecture, 12.06.10
Speakers: Dana Jenkins — Principal, Gensler; Frank Mentesana — Director of EcoSPACES at St. Philips Academy; Jason Anderson — Project Architect, WORKac; Vera Fabian — Garden Manager and Teacher, Edible Schoolyard at P.S. 216
Introduction: Lazar Kesic, AIA — Co-chair, AIANY Committee on Architecture for Education
Organizer: AIANY Committee on Architecture for Education

Renderings of P.S. 216’s Edible Schoolyard in summer and winter.

WORKac

Parents might be astonished to hear that their kids enthusiastically stuffed themselves with salad in the school cafeteria, but that’s what happened at P.S. 216 in Brooklyn this year, when the menu featured fresh vegetables the kids had helped grow in a new garden designed by WORKac. That day, “Not only did they eat school lunch and not complain about it, they loved it,” said Vera Fabian, garden manager and teacher at the school’s Edible Schoolyard. Fostering that kind of delight and expertise in natural foods is exactly the point of school gardens and teaching kitchens in schools such as P.S. 216 and St. Philip’s Academy by Gensler in Newark.

Teaching gardens are a hot trend in schools these days, tying in well with curricula on healthy, sustainable lifestyles. The idea isn’t new, though. More than 150 years ago, kindergarten inventor Friedrich Froebel promoted the concept of gardening as an educational tool, AIANY Committee on Architecture for Education Co-chair Lazar Kesic, AIA, remarked as he introduced the panel.

WORKac designed a new iteration of the “Edible Schoolyard,” a concept pioneered by sustainable-food advocate Alice Waters in the mid-1990s. She built her first Edible Schoolyard — a one-acre garden and kitchen classroom — at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, CA. Adapting the concept to the much-smaller Brooklyn site, which also has harsher climate extremes, WORKac developed a “moving greenhouse,” with a sliding enclosure that expands in winter, to protect plans from subfreezing temperature. In summer, it can be retracted, which frees up more open space, said Jason Anderson, WORKac’s project architect for the Edible Schoolyard at the pre-K-5 public school.

For Gensler’s design of St. Philip’s Academy (a K-8 independent school), Head of School Miguel Brito wanted a sustainable building in which the space would be a teaching tool in itself, said Gensler Principal Dana Jenkins. A new rooftop garden and teaching kitchen provide ways to teach kids about nature and the food cycle, but the teachers also find ways to integrate the garden into all sorts of other topics in their curricula. “Examples could be as simple as bringing math — like volume and measurement and area and so on — out of the classroom setting with a typical desk, and actually onto to the rooftop, measuring and understanding in a very practical way,” said Frank Mentesana, the school’s director of EcoSPACES. “Through this hands-on learning, kids are getting much more excited about the curriculum, and they’re retaining the information much better.”