"It was a struggling middle school desperately in need of something that would make the students have a stake," she said. Describing the community's "food environment," a term of art in nutrition education, she listed liquor store fare and junk food as the most prevalent options. Five years and six new school gardens later, Jaramillo thinks school administrators and teachers are genuinely on board with Urban Sprouts, whose mission is to serve low-income youth in San Francisco. "When the kids come outside; they are leaders, teaching each other how to plant," she says. "We need to make the garden a core, that will remain here and make a difference."
Whether that happens depends on whether garden education becomes institutionalized, not just a supplemental benefit reliant on the assiduousness of leaders like Jaramillo and Feiner. "My dream," Jaramillo says, "is that it would be like gym." That is to say, an expected feature of the precollege landscape. I asked her if there were models for this kind of integration. She, and everyone else I spoke with, pointed to the Edible Schoolyard, the celebrated collaboration between local-food pioneer Alice Waters and Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Berkeley. At the Schoolyard, a beneficiary of the Chez Panisse foundation, the perpetual cycle of seasons meshes with the academic year as rising eighth graders ceremonially plant corn for incoming sixth graders to harvest in the fall, suggesting a garden practice that is truly rooted in the school experience.
According to the San Francisco Unified School District, out of 104 K-12 school sites in the city, 36 maintain "green schoolyards," with 45 new gardens planned over the next four years. Statewide, $10.8 million from Sacramento was awarded in the form of California Instructional School Garden Program grants in October. It's not nearly enough to fulfill the California Department of Education's stated goal of "a garden in every school." But as Jordan students prepare to sow enough lettuce to provide the entire school with a lunch salad for one day, Jaramillo is hopeful that showing even a small percentage of kids where food comes from will have a lasting effect, with lessons about healthy eating rippling out through them to their families and into the community.
With the infrastructure of garden education still in its founding stages, assessing its efficacy poses a conundrum. The kind of life-changing transformations that green schoolyard proponents hope for might not be apparent in the short term, while slashed budgets threaten to endanger the longevity of even the most lovingly planted plots. Still, educators like Harris aren't daunted by the relative nonstandardization of their field. She's seen the results first-hand like the student at a Hayward school barbecue who traded a Butterfinger for a second helping of grilled zucchini. After our interview, as Harris left the grocery store where she'll teach her class to distinguish between processed and fresh food, a Ruus student in pigtails greeted her excitedly. "Miss Rachel!" she cried, throwing her head back with a wide grin. "I like garden!"