Reed Magazine February 2005
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Digging Deep

By Karin Evans

Mornings find Chelsea Chapman '98 walking down a dirt path surrounded by plots of organic vegetables. Depending on the season, carrots, peas, chard, even a lush patch of raspberries spring from the rich dark soil, soaking up the California sunshine. The plantings include not just the expected – corn, tomatoes, and broccoli – but more unusual crops, such as black currants, hazelnuts, edible bamboo, mulberries, and chayote. Antique pears, plums, and apples grow, as do herbs, medicinal plants, and tea trees. In the summer, clumps of bright orange nasturtiums and sunflowers burst with color. "Hi, girls," says Chapman, as she passes a few plump hens who are wandering through the garden, scratching for grubs in the compost heap.

The acreage supporting this rich array of crops and a unique public school program is part of the campus at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, California. Nine years ago this bit of gardening heaven was an asphalt parking lot. That was before famed restaurateur Alice Waters hatched a plan to turn the paving into paradise to create the Edible Schoolyard – giving school children a chance to grow and prepare their own healthy food, and providing Chelsea Chapman with a pretty amazing job.

The Edible Schoolyard project began when Waters, owner of Berkeley's famed Chez Panisse restaurant, happened to drive by the school's old parking lot one morning on her way to work. What a shame, she thought, to have the land surrounding the school covered with blacktop when so much else might be possible. When the former Montessori teacher publicly voiced her views on the subject, they caught the attention of the school administration. Soon, Waters and the staff at the junior high were joining hands to change things.

By the spring of 1995 they'd invited landscape architects, chefs, gardeners, and teachers to join in. Before the year was out, seed money had been raised, and the students themselves had broken ground. Sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders spent nearly two years breaking up the acre of parking lot and amending the soil that lay beneath. The school's unused cafeteria was refurbished into a kitchen classroom.

Chelsea Chapman joined the effort in the spring of 2001 as an assistant program manager. This past year she was promoted to program coordinator, in charge of the Edible Schoolyard and its many activities.

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chelse chapman image
  Chelsea Chapman '98
Eighth graders harvest potatoes
  Eighth graders harvest potatoes
Reed Magazine February