Chapman grew up in Fairbanks, Alaska, where she was home schooled. At Reed she majored in anthropology, with a particular interest in the ways in which people inhabit and make sense of space. She also became interested in the cultural aspects of food. After graduation she worked as a chef for two years at Alice Waters' second Berkeley restaurant, Café Fanny, before coming to work at the Edible Schoolyard.
Though her move from anthropology to garden work hasn't been entirely linear, says Chapman, it's all worked together. "Education is an ongoing process," she says. "It never stops. I think of this as continuing education." In addition to her work managing the garden and its activities, she teaches an after-school cooking class. This year they'll concentrate on the slow food movement. Chapman says her favorite part of the job is spending time with the students. "It's pure joy to be in a place where I can see education being transformed, where I can see kids being transformed. That's why I'm here."
Interestingly enough, she says, two of her classmates from Reed have also become involved in the garden project. Sylvan Brackett '98 works as assistant to Alice Waters, and Deirdre Conroy '01, after a stint at culinary school and time in France, showed up at the garden one day to offer herself as a volunteer.
Today, nine years after its inception, the Edible Schoolyard is a lush gathering spot where butterflies flit and students wander along arm in arm, munching on freshly picked pea pods and enjoying the fruits of their labors. From the beginning the vision was not just for a garden, but for a project that would be integrated into the daily life of the school. "The idea was for a school within a garden, rather than a garden within a school," says Chapman. The Chez Panisse Foundation supports the project, which is set up as a non-profit, completely separate from the school district, although its activities are all integrated into the school curriculum. The students are involved in every step of the work, from seed collection and preparation, to planning and planting, to composting and harvesting, cooking, and eating.
"Even people who pass by stop and appreciate the garden," says an eighth-grade boy, wandering down the dirt path between the pole beans and the peas. "Some stop and say, 'Wow! Landscape designers must have made this,' and we say, 'No, it's actually sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders.'"