Guest blog: Berkeley Schools, A Sustainable Food Model

Carrie Fehr begins her twelfth year as Chef Teacher for the cooking & gardening program in the Berkeley Unified School District.  She has developed an expansive repertoire of cooking lessons that skillfully integrate core academic subjects, culinary concepts, and nutrition education. The cooking classroom is a perfect match for Carrie’s love and passion for teaching children.  Her goal is to bring a positive emotional connection to healthy food and to instill an appreciation of wellbeing for every student, that will be accessible lifelong (and she keeps up a blog). 

Imagine a school that serves up healthy cafeteria food sourced by local farms, respects the environment, supports garden and cooking education in the classroom, and makes a positive difference in the community.

The Berkeley Unified School District, a national model for school food reform, exemplifies such a commitment to its students, and understands the important role it has in promoting health, sustainable agriculture, and environmental restoration.

It is no surprise that Berkeley is home to visionary chef Alice Waters, who has long championed the benefits of eating seasonally, and also helped provide a grant from her Chez Panisse Foundation, to hire Ann Cooper, aka Renegade Lunch Lady, to improve the quality of the school food, district wide several years ago. Since the overhaul to food services, some of the benefits to the schools include– universal breakfast, salad bars, cooking class recipes that link to the cafeteria, along with a take-home calendar, featuring healthy recipes that kids prepare at school.

But even though there are significant changes to the school food, the heart of the programs rely on the cooking and gardening education classes that link to core subjects in the classroom, and provide students with hands-on learning opportunities about food, the environment, and nutrition.  It makes a huge difference when kids are actively involved in the farm to table process, both in the cafeteria and at home– if they grow, cook, and learn about it, they will be willing to try it and discover that healthy food tastes good.

To reinforce the vital link food has to our health, it is important to recognize the valuable relationship between local farms and the food we serve at school, to the way we treat our environment, and its impact on how we teach our children about food, and their health.

And as a nation, we have a social responsibility to take steps to improve the health of our children, with learning opportunities that begin at school.

Carrie is available for consulting please contact her at or visit her blog or on twitter at


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6 thoughts on “Guest blog: Berkeley Schools, A Sustainable Food Model

  1. TUNA, cracker, peas, tomato slice, pears milk. really that’s what the menu says….. what kids in the USA will eat that… I will have a pix of what it looks like… so need less to say I will pack a lunch on that day….

  2. I remember only cooking or gardening twice during my time as a student. I was lucky though I went to a private school that offered cooking as an exploratory class during my middle school years and a second grade teacher who kept up a school garden. It did shape my love of cooking and trying new foods. I hate to say that as an educator now that my students don’t get the information about food or even the chance to explore cooking or gardening.

  3. Sadly, the federal grant that has funded many of the cooking and gardening classes in the Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) ends this year and the likeleyhood of the feds refunding them is up in the air. My two kids love Chef Carrie and her lessons and they are very good, adventurous eaters! I hope we can come up with the funding to continue these nationally recognized and educationally beneficial programs.

  4. It must be nice to have real food at school. I live just across the Bay from Berkeley/Oakland and our school lunches are microwaved, prepackaged crap. It’s sad that all kids can’t get a healthy meal at school, especially if more are relying on school lunches for all or most of the food they get in a day.

  5. This is a heartening article. I am part of the Board of the Yuba Environmental Science Charter School, in the Northern wilds of California, we have a garden, an out door lab, but we don’t have the cooking class. We are in our infancy, in many ways just learning to walk. But, I hope some day we do have something like this. At this time, we do offer lunch ‘hand made’ by our wonderful cook, it just isn’t from our own garden! I know that the Berkley program has been one of our models that we are working toward.

    I hope Berkley gets the grant ….. nutrition is such a fundamental element of living …..

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