In 1995, pioneering chef Alice Waters unleashed a major trend when she turned a barren Berkeley, California, school yard into a place where children could cultivate plants and learn about growing and preparing food. Today there are hundreds of Waters’s inspired Edible Schoolyard programs in all 50 states. One of the latest opened at P.S. 216 in Brooklyn in December 2013. WORKac, the New York architectural office of Amale Andraos and Dan Wood, designed the glowing structure with raised beds, a greenhouse, a chicken coop, a cistern, and an indoor kitchen classroom.
The back-to-the-earth educational movement has also grown beyond Waters. In 2011, The Kitchen, a sustainable café in Boulder, Colorado, began producing Learning Gardens—modular plant beds with built-in irrigation systems. The units, designed by Kitchen cofounder Jen Lewin, are easy to install in large or small plots and are already in use at 167 schools.
Educators throughout the country are seizing the initiative. Austin’s Casis Elementary School, which already had a thriving organic garden, hired Baldridge Architects to create an outdoor schoolroom to provide shelter and work space for alfresco garden projects. The resulting design, easily prefabricated, can be built anywhere. The three Rs—reading, writing, and arithmetic—now have two new companions: roots and raised beds.
Deputy director of design at Metropolitan Home magazine until it closed in 2009, Arlene Hirst is now a freelance journalist. Her byline appears frequently in New York Times Magazine as well as Surface, Modern, and Interior Design magazines and Elle Decor Italia.