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Courtesy of the Green City Market

Students pick and taste broccoli during a visit to the Green City Market Edible Gardens at Lincoln Park Zoo.

Alice Waters’ edible garden movement grows in Chicago

by Abigail Thorpe
Apr 16, 2014


Courtesy of The Green City Market

Student talk about growing your own food in a program led by Ali Levitch-Edwards about the Green City Market Edible Gardens.


Courtesy of the Green City Market

Green City Market's Edible Gardens in the Lincoln Park Zoo during the spring season.


Abigail Thorpe/MEDILL

Alice Waters and Ruth Reichl promoted edible gardens Thursday evening at a packed event presented by the Chicago Humanities Festival.

Edible Schoolyard Project creator Alice Waters packed the house at the Art Institute of Chicago to promote school gardens that give kids a harvest of food and education. 

Waters and food author Ruth Reichl delighted the audience with comical vignettes and mouth-watering, gourmet descriptions, resulting in an evening that “was like my foodie dream come true,” said attendee Maddie LaKind.


But most importantly, the evening focused on today’s youth in the production, care and consumption of healthy, sustainable food. The garden movement makes it all real by bringing foods kids grow into their homes or school cafeterias and onto their plates.  

“The Art of Simple Food" - presented by the Chicago Humanities Festival in partnership with the Green City Market, Edible Schoolyard Project and The Art Institute of Chicago - encouraged an expansion of edible gardens into the core education of every school.

“We have to turn it all around and show the children that we care about them,” said Waters. “It’s a culture of fast food that’s around us, and it’s feeding us the [concept] of fast, cheap and easy.”

Incorporating agriculture throughout the curriculum will help the youth move away from this concept, continued Waters, adding “a kind of magic happens when they fall in love with nature.”

Waters founded the Edible Schoolyard Project in Berkeley, Calif., but her influence inspired other school systems, such as Chicago’s, to incorporate educational gardening programs into their curriculum.

Such programs across the country work to educate children about caring for the land, society and their own bodies through hands-on learning in the garden that teaches them how to grow, care for and enjoy natural, healthy, sustainable food.


They are funded by a combination of government grants, private organizations and the individual schools or districts.

With Waters at the helm of the movement, cities around the nation are active in making edible gardens a part of today’s education.

In Chicago, the Green City Market created the Edible Gardens in the Lincoln Park Zoo as part of an effort to encourage community participation and learning.

The program is non-profit, staffed by the local organization the Organic Gardener, and provides free field trip and workshop opportunities for children and schools throughout the area. It is an opportunity for students who otherwise might not be able to experience hands-on how plants grow and what they taste like fresh from the garden.

This year the Edible Gardens will focus on the theme of the Columbian Exchange, showing students how the food we eat is a product of the exchange between the Old World and the New World.

The Americas introduced foods like tomatoes, corn, potatoes and tobacco to Europe, while Europe introduced much of the livestock that helped support and build the New World.

There are more than 400 school gardens in Chicago. Chicago Public Schools are actively working at “integrating the garden curriculum within our common core,” said Leslie Fowler, executive director of Nutrition Support Services for CPS.

Last year the school system created an “eat what you grow” manual detailing how to establish school gardens with the aim of produce in turn being brought into the cafeteria for students to eat.

Five schools have started bringing the produce from the garden into the cafeteria, with 20 more schools slated to plant in May and begin the program, said Fowler. Waters is “the foundation of programs of this sort,” she said.

Fowler has seen success with the edible gardening programs. There is an increase in participation for healthier options at those locations, she said. At Miles Davis Magnet Academy, where the school garden was harvested to provide a salad bar at the cafeteria, “every student had a salad that day,” said Fowler.

Waters said if she could accomplish one thing, it would be to bring a free school lunch to every child, with criteria of the food coming from local, sustainable farmers. This dream may be far-reaching, but with the recent movement toward edible schoolyard gardens, hopefully not impossible.

Programs like these are signs that what Waters started over a decade ago has blossomed into a national movement that is gaining momentum.