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The Original Innovation Lab

Thursday, February 6, 2014

In January, I had the pleasure of attending the annual California Association of Independent Schools Trustee/School Head conference here in San Francisco along with several CDS trustees. This annual gathering is the largest meeting of independent school trustees and school heads in the nation. Michael Pollan (author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma) was the keynote speaker at the conference. Michael’s son, now in college, graduated from the Berkeley School and Marin Academy, two Bay area independent schools, and it was wonderful to hear him make connections between his own writing and the independent school experience.

Pollan spoke passionately about the importance of a school garden, calling it the “ultimate in experiential learning.” This fall, CDS will celebrate the twentieth anniversary of our school garden. Children and adults have learned how to care for the animals, plant and harvest, conserve seeds and compost. The CDS garden is our original innovation lab, where students are tinkering, taking risks, making mistakes, getting dirty and experiencing the joy of eating fruit and vegetables off the vine. CDS is a landmark site, and our farm and garden was once the site of an Ohlone orchard and garden. It is lovely to think of that space as being a continuous source of joy and sustenance for so many.

Michael Pollan’s new book, Cooked, is about the art of transforming the stuff of nature into delicious things to eat and drink. As Michael says on his web site, “Cooking our food involves us in a web of social and ecological relationships: with plants and animals, the soil, farmers, our history and culture, and, of course, the people our cooking nourishes and delights.” Cooking is also something we do well at CDS and we see the results in our environmental kitchen. Lower school students make kale chips, zucchini bread and applesauce. Our middle school cooking selective is taught by Mickael Drouet. Young chefs are learning how to make endives au jambon, tarte aux pommes, carrot soup and other yummy dishes.

Processed foods which are full of fat, sugar and salt are making us sick and Pollan thinks that cooking may be the single most important step we can take to make our food healthier and more sustainable. “Reclaiming cooking as an act of enjoyment and self-reliance, learning to perform the magic of these everyday transformations, opens the door to a more nourishing life.” Type two diabetes and obesity are two chronic illnesses linked to processed foods. And we now know that obesity begins in childhood, as highlighted in this recent New York Times article. Teaching our students how to make healthy choices around food is so important and cooking together at home helps builds on the skills children learn at CDS. Our second grade Dolphins are working on a cookbook, which the class will sell at Fiesta.

So whether you come to CDS on the weekend as family farmers or your student brings home eggs or produce won at the Friday morning Green Task Force raffle, or a slice of something baked in the environmental kitchen, I hope you enjoy the bounty our site provides. CDS is fortunate to have this sunny oasis in the Mission and the teaching and learning opportunities that it brings. I think Michael Pollan would approve.