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General News    H4'ed 2/18/10

Food Fight

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So now the Right Wing Peanut Gallery has something to say about school gardening programs.

Its spokesperson is Caitlin Flanagan, a contributing editor and book reviewer at The Atlantic Monthly.

Her target: the Edible Schoolyard (ESY), a program sponsored by the Chez Panisse Foundation.

Chef and author Alice Waters started ESY in 1995 on a one-acre empty lot near Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, CA. ESY and gardening programs like it have been adopted by many public schools across the country ever since. In 2008, for example, 3,849 out of 9,000 California schools used ESY, says Flanagan in her recent Atlantic article.

Flanagan objects to school gardens because they take time away from the academic subjects, which causes students to do poorly on their standardized tests and thus subjugates underprivileged youngsters to failed, impoverished lives as adults.

While Flanagan doesn't totally dislike gardening programs, she maintains they should be held after school. Then in an interesting twist, she venomously chides not Waters but the California Department of Education "for allowing these gardens to hijack the curricula of so many schools." And they do this without a single study verifying that garden programs help students pass standardized tests in English and math.

Lisa Bennett, communications director of the Center for Ecoliteracy, not only supplies data on the academic benefits of school gardens that Flanagan says is missing, a common tactic of the Babbling Right, but she provides a masterful and logical refutation of Flanagan's arguments.

Meanwhile, another popular youth program, Will Allen's Growing Power Youth Corps, is providing children with academic and professional experience, teaching them reading and mathematics and developing their entrepreneurial and life skills through organic agriculture. So impressive is his success, that Allen was awarded the MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant of $500,000 in 2008. Prior to teaching urban gardening to inner-city children, Allen was a professional basketball player and later a businessman marketing products for Proctor & Gamble.

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Olga Bonfiglio is a Huffington Post contributor and author of Heroes of a Different Stripe: How One Town Responded to the War in Iraq. She has written for several magazines and newspapers on the subjects of food, social justice and religion. She (more...)
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