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Natural Awakenings Atlanta

ALICE WATERS: On Feeding Kids, Sustainable Ag & Slowing Climate Change

Feb 28, 2020 09:30AM ● By Diane Eaton

Alice Waters & Rashid Nuri (Photo: Bailey Garrot)

World-renowned chef Alice Waters and urban agriculturalist Rashid Nuri took part at February’s annual conference of Georgia Organics in Athens. Nuri was the keynote speaker, and Waters, founder of the farm-to-table movement, served attendees a lunch menu drawn from her nonprofit, the Edible Schoolyard Project. We captured their conference remarks and interviewed them individually.

Nutrition begins in the soil.”

These few words are at the heart of the work of chef, activist and author Alice Waters, whose passionate and broad-reaching career has helped transform the world’s relationship to food and the land from which it grows.

Waters first burst onto the culinary scene in 1971 as founder of Chez Panisse Restaurant in Berkeley, California. But for decades since then, she also has made a global impact championing local sustainable agriculture that seeks to establish a mutually beneficial exchange between the land, the farmers, the community, the world’s climate and the food on the table.

Waters is the author of sixteen books, including her critically acclaimed memoir, Coming to My Senses: The Making of a Counterculture Cook.

A great deal of Waters’ work revolves around children. In 1995, she founded the Edible Schoolyard Project in Berkeley, an effort to use food to deepen kids’ relationship to the environment and to help them learn first-hand the many fruitful and sustainable values associated with growing food. Partnering with the area’s middle school principal, and joined by educators, families, farmers, cooks and artists, Waters introduced an organic garden and a kitchen classroom that have served as a rich learning environment for students and a model for others to follow.

Edible Schoolyard also gives schools an alternative to buying food goods from traditional industry suppliers. “We want to buy the food directly from the people who take care of the land,” said the mayor of Stockton, California, who worked with Waters to set up Edible Schoolyard programs in 53 schools in his city. “We want to give them the money and we want to bring their values in through the cafeteria. That's the plan.”

Today, more than 5,000 farm-to-school member programs are affiliated with Waters’ “edible education” programs around the world. Some begin with a very small garden for teaching classes, some are changing their school lunch and others are taking their kids out to a farm and figuring out how to include academics for edible education.

How We Eat Affects Climate Change

According to Waters, something as seemingly ordinary as eating has a profound effect on our lives and our environment.

“[Fast food] is very, very serious,” says Waters, “because we are purchasing our food from industrial farms and industrial ranchers who are destroying the environment. And so, we're causing climate change by the way we eat.”

It begins with educating our kids, says Walters. “We can teach children to effortlessly embrace the human values that are essential for the future of this planet.” Edible Schoolyard gardens are "organic regenerative," a kind of farming that goes beyond sustainability. “That's how we're addressing the climate issue as well as health. We are very focused on the idea that what kids eat at school needs to be real food.”

But Waters’ focus includes those at the other end of the equation as well: the farmers who tend the land and grow the food. “My idea is to have school-supported agriculture… in that what you're doing is buying everything that the farmer is producing. There’s nobody in the way with their rules and regulations.” Farmers, in turn, “can do the most important thing right now—which is address climate change.” Using farming practices like carbon sequestration, participating farmers are helping to make a measurable dent in reducing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Georgia Organics Farm to School

At the Georgia Organics Conference, Waters and her team—which included 2018 James Beard Award Semi-Finalist and Georgia Organics board member Matthew Raiford of Gilliard Farms—served up an Edible Schoolyard meal to all 650 people attending.

But Georgia Organics is no stranger to connecting farms with schools. Since 2007, the organization’s own Farm to School Program has spearheaded and evolved far-reaching and comprehensive projects that have taken root in communities across Georgia. It works with school districts, early care centers, partners and other agencies to go farm-to-school at the grassroots—and “grasstops”—level.

Thanks to Georgia Organics’ efforts, Georgia schools are connecting with local farms to serve healthy meals in school cafeterias, offering food and gardening education, and improving students’ health. It has helped establish networks of organizations working in food, farming and child nutrition; launched strategic plans to integrate gardening and local food into early care centers; coordinated the Golden Radish awards that recognize school districts for farm-to-school accomplishments, and more.

Farm to School is just one of Georgia Organics’ numerous community programs that have helped fulfill their mission to bring organic food from Georgia farms to Georgia families.

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