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[Fwd: [sg] Fw: Vandalism at the Edible Schoolyard]

  • Subject: [cg] [Fwd: [sg] Fw: Vandalism at the Edible Schoolyard]
  • From: HOPE N COULTER <arhunger@flash.net>
  • Date: Wed, 16 May 2001 09:33:25 -0500

I apologize for cross-postings, but I thought any of you who hadn't seen this would want to grieve along with the sender.  Warning:  this will upset you!

Vandalism at the Edible Schoolyard


The destruction last week of a very significant part of the garden created by students at King Middle School is sad indeed. It is now too late to save the land or the testimony it bore to the work of hundreds of students at the school.  But at least it is a story that should be told, and perhaps we can learn something from it.


The particular part of the garden that has been bulldozed to create a new access road is the steep sloping bank where the garden meets the vast expanse of asphalt that typifies this and many other schoolyards across the nation.  It was a narrow spit of land with a mature arbutus (strawberry tree), a large California Oak, and a number of smaller oaks and toyon.  The arbutus was one of the most beautiful examples in the Bay Area and it provided fruit, shade and shelter for birds and students alike. For the conservation of these trees alone, the land should have been spared the bulldozer and the addition of yet more asphalt.  It is a poor lesson to teach children, that these beautiful trees, irreplaceable in their lifetime, are not worth conserving.


But the real significance of the place for me, and my sadness at its destruction, is that it was the location of a great deal of energetic and high-spirited work and play for the hundreds of 11 and 12 year old students who built the garden at King over the past five years.  I watched the students reclaim this particular part of the garden, cutting back and uprooting the invasive cotoneaster, terracing and replanting the bank with hazelnuts they had grown from cuttings. The huge acacia tree that was crowding the oak was gradually harvested and provided the material for building the Ramada, the circular shade structure the students built as their meeting place for the beginning and end of the garden class.  Students figured out how to demolish the heavy steel railings that marked the upper edge of the bank. They planted, made pathways, bridges, walls, and wove a huge bird’s nest large enough for four or five students to nest in. Students were trusted to use axes, pickaxes, sledgehammers and crowbars to go about their jobs, and never once did a serious accident occur in all the thousands of child hours they worked in the garden.


But perhaps the most sacred aspect of this place and the part that will stay longest in my memory, and probably the memories of many students, was the digging of the acequias (a drainage/irrigation channel) that became affectionately known as the Middle River.  The students dug it along the contour of the slope to drain the water from the Upper River they had dug across the plateau of the garden.  Never have I seen such a splendid playful application of youthful energy by so many young people over such a long time.  The combination of water, mud, and high spirits, of dams, floods, jokes and earnest hard work was something our children experience too rarely.  Now their work is brutally obliterated.


This place was, in short, the location of a very special sort of collective activity. It is very rare in our culture for young people to be given the chance to create something tangible, to care for the earth, to choose the task they would like to do, and to learn to work together in a team.  There were of course students who were not very interested, who hung out and watched or who had conversations, some who hindered or just got in the way.  But the learning was incredible.  It was not the kind of learning you could test anyone on.  Sometimes it was a chance to learn what you could do, what resources and intelligence you could muster, whether your friends would be supportive, whether you could work with someone you didn’t like: to learn what kinds of interaction were constructive, and how things could fall apart.  It was also a chance to find out about some of the elements we depend on to live on this planet -  dirt, rocks, water, and plants.


We have very little notion of the sacred, or what is worthy of preservation, and who needs to be remembered. The story of the Edible Schoolyard has been told many times in the media, with it's focus being the founder, Alice Waters.  However, Alice isn't the only hero in this story, although she has rightfully earned the community's respect for her vision and work. There is another story that should be told, and many young people who should be remembered and honored.  The best way of honoring them would have been to respect the work they had done and to preserve the place they had nurtured and helped create.  Many of them come back to the schoolyard after they have left the school and have a deep sense of pride for what they did collectively. This is not always apparent while they are attending the school.  Now they will come back to find that what they did was not considered worth saving.


This will not surprise them. For the most part the adult world is not seriously interested in who young people are, nor in respecting what they think, feel or are able to create. We are far from creating a culture in which young people are fully respected.  I’m sad because in a small way the garden at King has always tried to show that respecting the earth and respecting children are fundamentally part of the same process. Small wonder the favorite word of today’s youth is “whatever”. It’s a way of defending themselves against the pain of a lot of disrespect.





David Hawkins

Former Garden Manager,

The Edible Schoolyard

Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School,





Vandalism at the Edible Schoolyard.doc

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