Marin Academy’s Sustainable Food Program on PBS Special

Jennifer Upshaw | Marin Independent Journal | March 28, 2008

Marin Independent JournalStudents at San Rafael’s Marin Academy got down in the dirt as the camera rolled Thursday for a documentary to air on PBS.

The makers of the 26-minute special, called “Nourish: Food + Community,” roamed school campuses in search of sustainable food programs.

“We’re here because we’re really impressed with MA for a number of reasons,” producer/director Kirk Bergstrom said. “They have an incredibly healthy school lunch program that is such a model for other schools. The school garden is an extension of that. I think it is important for students to feel that intimate connection to what they grow in the ground.”

The school’s caf has attracted attention for its emphasis on “real” school lunches – food that is not processed or pre-packaged and comes from local farmers.

San Francisco-based Acre Gourmet, the school’s food service provider, strives to use local and organic foods in everything served to students and staff, co-owner Adam Kesselman said. All organic waste from the kitchen and caf is composted.

“I think they are trying to create a culture of sustainability,” said Kesselman, who served as an adviser to the filmmakers. “As far as schools go, I think they’re definitely a leader.”

The garden also serves as a teaching tool, having been incorporated into the biology curriculum, biology teacher Mark Stefanski said.

“I think it is affirming for them the importance of the work we’re doing, the importance of a more sustainable relationship with food and it affirms that we can be leaders in this,” Stefanski said of the national television exposure.

The raised planting beds are the subject of an outdoor classroom experiment in the care and feeding of seedlings, said freshman Julia Chanin, 15, of Tiburon.

Reclaimed soil from the school’s old baseball diamond has been divided into four beds and mixed with three separate amendments: compost from the school kitchen, tango mulch (turkey and mushrooms) and organic fertilizer. The fourth bed, the control group, is amendment-free.

Students returning from spring break will weigh plucked samples that have sprouted to determine which amendment works best.

“I’d so much rather be learning in a garden–there’s a real connection to how you learn,” Julia said. “I think bringing the class out into the garden gets people thinking–maybe when they’re walking through the grocery store, maybe it will get them to think about the organic option.”

Equipped with digging forks and many with bare feet, students played in the dirt Thursday as the documentarians roamed the garden seeking subjects.

“I think it is such a good learning experience,” said Eleanor Davis, 17, a senior from San Rafael. “It would be great if every school had their own garden.”

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