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Ann Arbor, MI: A Child's Garden Grows In Ann Arbor

  • Subject: [cg] Ann Arbor, MI: A Child's Garden Grows In Ann Arbor
  • From: Adam36055@aol.com
  • Date: Tue, 9 Nov 2004 11:03:30 EST

A child's garden grows in Ann Arbor

November 9, 2004


Chef Alice Waters has inspired an Ann Arbor school to create a gardening project for students.

Backers of the ambitious program, called Agrarian Adventure, hope to raise $500,000 to hire three staff members at Tappan Middle School and build a greenhouse, adobe bread oven and root cellar. They also want to start work on a professional-quality teaching kitchen for the youngsters, says founder Todd Wickstrom, who proposed the project more than a year ago.

Tappan principal Gary Court says the idea appealed to him because it was "more than a garden." By giving students and teachers a different way to work together, connecting children to the environment and offering new avenues to non-traditional learners, it represented "a completely different approach" to education, he says.

The effort was outlined for the public Saturday at the school in a program featuring Wickstrom, managing partner of Zingerman's Deli and a leader of Slow Food Huron Valley, and Waters herself, who visited Ann Arbor to lend her name to two fund-raising events -- an afternoon reception and a $250-per-ticket dinner at Eve the Restaurant in the Kerrytown Shops.

To contribute to fund-raising efforts for the Agrarian Adventure at Tappan Middle School in Ann Arbor or for more information about the program, contact founder Todd Wickstrom at 734-663-0974 anytime or e-mail twickstrom@zingermans.com. Interested persons may also contact principal Gary Court at 734-994-2011, 7:30 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays, or e-mail Tappan Agrarians @yahoogroups.com.

To learn more about Alice Waters' Edible Schoolyard project, which has become a national model and a resource for other school garden projects around the country, visit its Web site at


Alice Waters -- owner and executive chef of Chez Panisse restaurant and café in Berkeley, Calif. -- has profoundly influenced American cuisine through her emphasis on using only the highest quality, in-season ingredients, grown locally and sustainably whenever possible. It has often been written that, while Julia Child taught us how to cook, Alice Waters taught us what to cook.

Chez Panisse, still going strong in its 33rd year, is known for the honesty, flavor and freshness of its menu, which changes daily to reflect the best ingredients available from the mostly local farmers and ranchers who supply it with vegetables, fruit and meat.

The simple and delicious recipes at right, from two of Waters' eight cookbooks, are perfectly time to the season. For the soup, use Michigan-grown carrots and red peppers if possible, still available in local farmers markets.

The garden's groundbreaking -- featuring a horse-drawn plow, a ceremonial bread-breaking and the children's reading of their own Declaration of Veg-Dependence -- was held last month. Tappan has about 800 students in sixth through eighth grades.

Waters, who opened Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley in 1971, was one of the first chefs to advocate cooking with locally produced, in-season ingredients -- an idea that has fundamentally changed the way American chefs cook and think. Her nationally known Edible Schoolyard project began in the 1994-95 school year as a way to teach gardening and cooking skills to children at an inner-city Berkeley middle school, to give them not only better meals but a different attitude toward food and eating. At the time, their only school lunch foods were microwaveable, packaged items sold by a vendor in the parking lot, because the school cafeteria had been abandoned.

Today, the Edible Schoolyard has grown into a nationally recognized program employing a full-time staff of six and working with every child at the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School. The youngsters grow and tend a one-acre organic garden and cook in a classroom-kitchen, in a program that has become a national model for school garden projects.

In the Ann Arbor project, the concept of combining education with gardening and cooking has been adapted for the local climate and community. Tappan's written goals say, among other things, that it will put "food production back on the educational agenda, as a subject worthy of our care and attention" and that it will help build a sense of community among students.

In the 10-year vision statement, organizers dream of Tappan students in 2014 using their wood-fired oven to bake pizzas for school lunch, topping the crusts with tomatoes canned from the previous year's harvest and flavoring the sauce with herbs freshly picked in the greenhouse. Working in the greenhouse, children will sow, tend and transplant seedlings that are grown into vegetables for harvest. In the schoolyard, they will prune fruit trees under the direction of retired farmers. They will gather eggs from chickens living in coops in the greenhouse. And working with the farm's closed waste system, they will learn how nature uses chemical reactions and living things -- from earthworms to water plants -- to cleanse and recycle everything.

But those things, especially the lunch preparation, "are a long way down the road," Court says.

For now, soil has been turned over for the garden and the land will be planted in a cover crop until spring. Fifteen to 20 children active in an after-school gardening club are decorating the school with murals and planning for the spring planting of vegetables, which they will select. And an extensive network of supporters has been formed, involving everyone from farmers and chefs to school administrators and landscape architects.

The project has received a $25,000 grant from the Kellogg Foundation, and the students have applied for a $7,000 grant from the Ann Arbor Women's National Farm and Garden Association, Court says. "The students wrote the grant themselves," he added.

Last spring, the students raised money by planting heritage varieties of peppers, tomatoes and other vegetables and selling hundreds of the young plants to the public. As a result, parents and community members got involved, as well as "lots of people in their 20s, who are involved in organic foods," Court says.

Court says he is pleased by the volunteerism and cooperation the project has generated, and from the beginning, he was excited about the teaching opportunities it presented.

"Wouldn't it be great to teach geography through food? ... Kids can figure out how many cubic yards of compost they'll need. They'll use mathematics and science. It's all integrated. ... I thought, 'What a great vision.' It was more than just planting tomatoes."

Contact SYLVIA RECTOR at 313-222-5026 or rector@freepress.com.

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