Berkeley Unified School District’s gardening and cooking program faces cuts

Matt Trejo/Staff
Rivka Mason, pictured above, is a gardening educator at Malcolm X Elementary who stands to lose her job from lack of new funding sources for the district project.

Related Posts

The gardening and cooking program in Berkeley elementary schools could be facing cuts if new sources of funding are not found soon, a situation that would affect students and school employees alike.

Schoolyards for gardening have been staple in Berkeley elementary schools for decades, and their purpose is to teach students the values of nutrition and healthy living. But with recent losses in federal funding, Berkeley Unified must now scour its budget to find new funding.

Berkeley Unified, which no longer meets federal requirements of having a minimum low-income student enrollment of 50 percent, faced a $1.9 million loss in federal grant money last year — threatening the fiscal sustainability of programs like the gardening and cooking program, according to Karen Hemphill, director of the district school board. The program, however, was able to survive the current academic year by relying on the district’s general fund. But now the district must find money for the next school year to keep the program alive.

The schools’ gardening and cooking programs incorporates all subjects into the garden, and its curriculum encourages collaboration among teachers.

“The kids learn an appreciation of health and nutrition, and (the program) has academic components to it,” said Alexander Hunt, principal of Malcolm X Elementary School.

Additionally, the program appears to have a lasting impact on students’ lives and life choices.

“Being in the Malcolm X garden was one of my most memorable and long-lasting elementary school experiences,” said Max Chervin, a volunteer at Malcolm X and former cooking and gardening student.

The program also helps teach students to appreciate healthy living and food choices early on in hopes that the habits will remain later on in life.

“A lot of kids come in and say they don’t like vegetables, but in the end, they eat something they grew,” said Rivka Mason, a gardening educator at Malcolm X Elementary. “Its ownership connected with something that they are so far removed from.”

But a lack of new funding sources may jeopardize jobs like Mason’s and put students’ healthy education at risk.

“I could lose my job if we do not get funding,” Mason said. “I’m hoping the community will help to buy time.”

Hemphill, however, remains optimistic and says she has no reason to believe that board members will not exhaust every option to continue this program.

“We will be considering funding options as part of our budget process,” Hemphill said. “We have to look at the entire budget before we make a final decision … But I will be very surprised if there wasn’t some money found to continue the program.”

Hemphill noted that the board has not received the status for funding this year and will convene to discuss this issue on March 27.

Contact Matt Trejo at [email protected].

A previous version of this article may have implied that the program is a part of the Edible Schoolyard Project, which it is not.

A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that gardening and cooking programs at Berkeley schools may be cut due to a loss of a $1.9 million federal grant. In fact, $300,000 of that $1.9 million grant that is directed to the program was cut.