Meet Edible Schoolyard NYC’s Andrew Barrett

by Megan Saynisch

Published: 6/30/16, Last updated: 5/24/19

Andrew Barrett joined Edible Schoolyard NYC as Program Director in August 2014. He came from NYC Parks GreenThumb, where he provided technical and material support to the over 400 school gardens registered with the city through Grow to Learn NYC: The Citywide School Garden Initiative.  He has spent over a decade working on issues of food, hunger, and community development both at home and abroad, and holds Masters degrees in Agroecology and Horticulture. Here, we talk with him about his work:

What first motivated you to work to connect children to edible education?

In my first job after college, I served with AmeriCorps in Knoxville, TN, leading environmental education programs in three elementary schools. One goal of my work was to reduce school waste through lunchroom composting, which naturally evolved to include school garden projects. My time in the cafeteria and working with students in under-resourced schools allowed me to experience in a tangible way the challenges of food access and education, as well as the benefits of hands on learning that gardening and cooking provides. Getting to know the school communities and working alongside my students and their teachers in the garden was also so fulfilling and fun that I had to find a way to keep doing it!

What have been some of the most exciting developments for Edible Schoolyard NYC over the past few years?

As a young organization (founded in 2010), the past few years have been very exciting! This past year in particular has been an incredible moment for us as we have expanded our work through several new programs and opportunities:

First, we were selected to be the host site for FoodCorps in New York, which has enabled us to increase our reach as well as support a network of local organizations who are partnering with schools to create a nourishing environment for their students. In our inaugural program year, we have had 10 FoodCorps service members working in 20 schools across the Bronx, Manhattan, and Brooklyn.

This past fall, we also launched our new Network School program, expanding on our proven Demonstration School model to make food education accessible to even more NYC students. Each school’s program is unique, based on the community’s needs, goals and resources, and Edible Schoolyard NYC works closely with school communities to expand gardens, add kitchen classes and promote a vibrant culture around healthy food. All of our Network Schools are located in low-income neighborhoods identified by the NYC Department of Health as having high rates of diet-related diseases.

Finally, in the fall of 2015, PS 216 was named one of twenty-six official Showcase Schools by the NYC Department of Education on the basis of our edible education program. That’s out of 1,800 NYC public schools! Through this partnership, we host three official visitations each year — all-day, intensive professional development workshops — where large groups of New York City educators can be inspired by our kids, our teachers and our classes.

How does connecting children to opportunities in the kitchen and garden impact the development of a sustainable food system?

Students who participate in hands on, experiential learning gain confidence, self-efficacy, self-esteem, problem solving, teamwork and leadership skills, and take pride in their work. These socio-emotional changes, when they occur over the course of a program aimed at food systems education, make students more likely to take action in the future to work toward a more sustainable world. They become advocates for healthy changes in their peer networks and families, as they feel the strong desire to share their new knowledge, skills and commitments.

Unlike traditional classes, hands on garden and kitchen work is literally empowering — it gives students information and inspiration to develop a strong desire and ability to foster change. Therefore, through our work to increase demand for healthier food by teaching students how to grow and prepare it, we are realizing our long-term vision that all children are educated and empowered to make healthy food choices for themselves, their communities and the environment, actively achieving a just and sustainable food system for all.

How does Edible Schoolyard NYC support teachers in bringing new edible education opportunities to their schools?

In all of our programs — Demonstration Schools, Network Schools, Professional Development and FoodCorps New York — we are able to support NYC teachers in a variety of ways and with different levels of engagement.

Through our direct school partnerships, we work closely with school communities to integrate kitchen and garden lessons into the regular school day as well as after school and family programs, reinforcing the academic subjects using hands on, project-based lessons.

Through our Professional Development Program, we invite teachers, nonprofit workers, and volunteers from across the city and beyond to learn how to incorporate edible education into their own classrooms. Most of our Professional Development workshops are free and open to the public, and educators leave them with the knowledge, skills and confidence they need to build, maintain and teach from a garden and kitchen classroom. Much of our curriculum may also be downloaded for free on our website.

Where do you see the greatest opportunities for Edible Schoolyard NYC to continue to grow?

Over the last several years, interest in school gardens and the kind of experiential, project-based learning that they provide through growing and cooking food has grown exponentially. With 1.1 million public school students, New York City is the largest school district in the country, and we see tremendous potential for growth through both our Network School Program and in partnership with FoodCorps here in New York. In just our first year with both of these programs, we have seen schools across the city embrace gardening, cooking and nutrition education. As we refine these new programs, we will be well-positioned to grow with proven outcomes in student knowledge, skills, preferences and behavior with respect to healthy food.

What do you find to be your biggest source of inspiration day to day?

The power of food as a point of convergence for issues of inequality, health and the environment has always provided motivation and inspiration for my work. In my role as Program Director with Edible Schoolyard NYC, working with such an incredible staff that is so dedicated to our mission inspires me every day. Spending time in our partner schools and seeing the joy in learning as students, their families and their teachers plant, grow, harvest and prepare fresh vegetables continuously reinforces the importance of what we do. I am thrilled with the progress that I have seen in edible education in the 15 years I have been doing this work, but also driven by the challenge of bringing this opportunity and experience to more children in NYC and beyond.

Keep up with Andrew and Edible Schoolyard NYC:

Instagram and Twitter: @esynyc

Facebook: Edible Schoolyard NYC

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