Student Interns Gain Valuable Food System Work Experience with Berkeley Unified School District Gardening & Cooking Program

By Jezra Thompson

Jezra Thompson is Program Supervisor of the Berkeley Public School Gardening & Cooking Program.

The Berkeley Food Institute connects those seeking degrees and professions in our food system with those that are currently working in our food system, whether it’s community gardening, added value entrepreneurship, or education. Here at Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD), we teach all of our students a food system education before they go to college. We have a districtwide school garden program that has it’s own curriculum and dedicated garden instructors at every school, as well as a budding nutrition and cooking program. Our instructors provide hands on experiences within nature that directly connects to what students in preschool through high school are learning in science, math, and language arts.

The best place to learn photosynthesis is in the garden, where plants are actively photosynthesizing! And, the best place to learn about teaching about food systems is in a public school garden and nutrition classroom.

Bridget Grubb, UC Berkeley student intern, leading a Life Lab lesson on the Cycle Story to a 3rd grade garden class. Photo taken by Sarah Winer, Garden Instructor at Thousand Oaks Elementary School in Berkeley Unified School District.

To support this growing interest and need for institutionalized food system education, BFI and BUSD worked within our two institutions to create a structure for regularly welcoming UC Berkeley students into our BUSD school gardens and nutrition classrooms. This fall, we successfully placed four UC Berkeley student interns into three BUSD gardens and one nutrition classroom. Instructors guided them as they got a first-hand taste for teaching in a public school garden or nutrition classroom, and practiced connecting with elementary and middle school students over harvesting fresh veggies, turning soil, and making compost piles right in their own Berkeley community. They peered into what it’s like to develop curriculum, plan for family cooking nights, collaborate with teachers, and care for robust school gardens. In exchange, interns were offered mentorship and course credits for the Food System Minor or School of Education field study requirement.

After a semester with us, some interns decided that a career in school garden and nutrition education was possibly not for them, but found a deeper interest in other food system work. Many found the community work with kids in gardening and nutrition education to be meaningful ways to spend their time, resulting in more deep thinking about food justice or other community gardening projects. We look forward to welcoming a new cohort of interns into our school gardens and nutrition classrooms in the spring semester, as well as in the following years to come. To learn more and apply, contact Meg Prier, BFI Campus Gardens Coordinator, at megprier@berkeley.edu.

Thank you to Megan Panero-Eley, Bridget Grubb, Kathy Lui, and Daisy Schadlich, the UC Berkeley interns who contributed their time and skills to BUSD’s Gardening & Cooking Program this fall.