Whether or not there are kids on the premises or not, the edible schoolyard continues to develop Bakersfield life

Classrooms and school hallways have been quiet for the past few months and have missed the young minds that make them bloom.

But growth has continued for at least one educational institution in Kern County.

The Edible School Yard of Buena Vista, a collaboration between the Grimm Family Education Foundation and the Panama-Buena Vista Union School District, is a garden oasis for students with green fingers. During a normal school year, around 1,000 pupils from Buena Vista primary school take part in practical 90-minute gardening and kitchen lessons, in which they learn the process of sowing seeds at the table.

However, during the COVID-19 pandemic, students had to make some changes, explained Dylan Wilson, program manager. However, the core task of encouraging students to have a positive relationship with food has remained the same.

When schools began to close in mid-March, the edible school yard turned into a small farm, according to Wilson. With around 60 vegetables a year, this was a pretty seamless transition. All the food went straight to the church.

“Because we had no students and the food wasn’t intended for class, we started donating products to the Cal State (Bakersfield) grocery store,” he said. More than 3,000 pounds of products were donated.

At the end of June, the garden received the green light to welcome the students back to campus. Since then, small cohorts of students have been participating in seasonal camps at the same time.

Wilson explained that the fall camp students met once a week for eight weeks and received four gardening and four kitchen lessons. There were 12 students per cohort, and in total the edible schoolyard saw 72 children.

“We found that many of our students and their knowledge of food systems increased over that eight week period,” he said. He added that parents are ready for their children to be away from home and look at something other than an electronic device. Therefore, experiential learning is a necessity.

Similar to how the program works during a normal school year, students have seen firsthand the fruits and vegetables they eat end up on their kitchen tables. Animal and plant life cycles, composting, gardening tool handling, and more are covered in the garden area, while students learn in the kitchen to use various tools such as knives and measuring cups until they are ready to tackle recipes.

The camps are open to all students, regardless of whether they are attending a private, public, or homeschool setting. Various COVID-19 health protocols such as wearing masks, social distancing, and temperature checks are in place. The Edible School Yard Winter Camp takes place from January 11th to March 5th.

There were challenges along the way, like socially distant young children wanting to be with friends, Wilson acknowledged, but smaller class sizes and more individualized attention to students allowed “the interaction between students and the teacher to be” higher, “which is what leads to more engagement and understanding of concepts.

Outside of camps, Edible Schoolyard has hosted webinars on a Dignity Health grant aimed at parents to help them create healthy meals for their families. Through a partnership with Adventist Health and KGET, the schoolyard shares healthy recipes with the community every Wednesday at 17 News at Sunrise.

The garden even produces its own extra virgin olive oil. Mature olive trees were planted out of Woodlake in 2012, and today around 350 trees surround the area. Darcy Marshall harvests and presses the handpicked olives every year. The result is a peppery and authentic extra virgin olive oil from Buena Vista, which has taken first place at the Kern County Fair since 2015.

The olive oil can be purchased from Lassen’s Natural Foods and Vitamins and Williams Sonoma. All proceeds go to the edible schoolyard.

Ema Sasic can be reached at 661-395-7392. Follow her on Twitter: @ema_sasic.

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