a journal of our edible education


Food as the Subject of Art

IMG_4783Representing fruits and vegetables in “still life” is a rich and ancient artistic tradition. Countless artists, throughout history and throughout the world, have celebrated the beauty of food by arranging it thoughtfully on a table and capturing its image on canvas. Recently, students at OJA had an opportunity to experience this tradition in their art class. Using produce straight from the garden, they combined scientific, botanical observation with artistic expression. As with many of their projects, they first saw how other artists had approached this subject and used that observation to inspire their own work. Seeing work from historical seed catalogs and even a few contemporary artists rounded out their appreciation for this genre. Our art teacher is gifted at integrating other curriculums into her art program and this day was a good example.  By elevating fruits and vegetables (in this case okra, pink-eyed peas, eggplant and watermelon) to subjects of art she sent a subtle but significant message to her young artists. Fresh and healthy food has value beyond nutrition.  Sometimes this piece gets lost in the conversation. In our efforts to get kids to eat better we sometimes forget to emphasize the aesthetic experience of food. It is said in the restaurant business that the customer eats first with his eyes. Kids are no exception. Never is it more true that presentation is everything. The road to healthy and pleasurable eating is a journey of a thousand baby steps.  This day our students took more than a few as they “ate” with their eyes. Introducing unfamiliar foods (along with some that are already known and loved) in this way gives kids a positive experience that will more than likely affect their perceptions of that food when they encounter it on a plate.

Artist at Work

Artist at Work

You might think that having kids draw a watermelon isn’t really necessary in getting them to value it. Granted, it’s kind of a low bar for watermelon. Even so we can’t forget that we are living in a world where the industrial food system is trying to convince parents that having a child suck pureed watermelon (along with some other unfortunate concentrated fruits) out of a plasticized foil pouch counts as healthy eating. “Eating” watermelon this way will never compare to the sticky mess of putting your face into a juicy slice of heaven and seeing how far you can spit a seed from the back porch. That is beautiful.

“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see” – Edgar Degas


Memory Garden

One of the  universal experiences in this life is the unfortunate pain of grief and loss.  Even children are not spared the sorrow of losing loved ones.  This year has been a difficult one for some of our students.  With this in mind Mrs. Curet’s third grade class thought a memory garden would be a good thing to have on our campus.  A school cannot begin to replace what some children lose through tragedy but we can create a place where fond memories are fostered and cherished.  Our third graders embraced the idea that a special garden space could help those having difficult days.  Just a place to sit and remember could bring comfort.  Of course a garden like this shouldn’t just look peaceful and beautiful, we thought it should smell that way too.  What does a happy memory smell like?  Of course there isn’t just one answer, but when looking for a natural fragrance that can inspire peace and beauty it’s hard to match the flowers of the Plumeria tree.  IMG_3318

Proud Tree Planters

Proud Tree Planters

We thought Plumerias would be the perfect trees to shade students just needing some time to remember.   Most of the third graders had never smelled Plumeria flowers before but after some heavenly sniffs all of them thought this was the perfect smell for a memory garden.  If tranquility has a smell, surely it’s Plumeria.

A Handful of Sunshine

A Handful of Sunshine


“This is what it smells like”

While planting these trees we talked about the value of memories and the importance of making new ones.  Some students were inspired to share a special memories that helped to bring them comfort.  Some were sad. Some were sweet, and one was even funny-

I’ve got Earrings!

I remember when my dad taught me how to catch lizards.  I was 3 years old and I had just had my birthday and my dad said he would teach me how.  So when we got home we went to the backyard dad caught a lizard and showed me how to catch them.  It took a while for me to learn how but eventually I was as good as my dad.  When I was really good, he taught me how to put them on my ears like earrings, but only small ones!  I did not understand why only small ones, it was because the big ones never let go and it hurts, but I learned the hard way!  So I caught a big lizard at school and put it on my ear.  When it finally let go I was bleeding, so I never did that again!


Lizard Earring 1


Lizard Earring

We hope that this garden will remind our students that memories are valuable gifts that we give to each other and that when treasured, they are gifts that we can keep for a lifetime.

On Fire for Education


Recruits Preparing to Enter Structure, Photo Credit: Jack Facundus

What may appear, at first glance, as an emergency crisis is actually a well planned training exercise.  Like Orlando Junior Academy, the Orlando Fire Department recognizes the value of hands-on experiential learning and was able to benefit last week by setting this old house ablaze.  OFD has eighteen new recruits that were able to train in a “live fire” scenario in an actual residential structure, which is a rare and valuable opportunity.  The house itself is located across the street from our school’s gymnasium and sits on a double lot.  OJA owns this property and is looking to expand the current Edible Schoolyard program to address the needs of the greater community.  Rather than simply bulldoze this building down, OJA realized it could be used for educational purposes by the fire department.  Since it is OJA’s desire to be engaged in its community and partner with those who make that community a better (and safer) place to live, OJA agreed to let the fire department have free access.  None of this would be possible of course, without the generosity of  Florida Hospital and Brasfield & Gorrrie, who have agreed to support our Edible Schoolyard by removing what is left of the house and preparing the lot for future development.   These are the kinds of partnerships that we see as being vital not only to the success of our school as an institution but to our graduating students as well.  It is our hope that children leave OJA with the desire to be an integral part of their community, receiving graciously and giving generously, equipped and inspired to  make a difference.

Portion Size Me

Meet the Reids.

Marshall Reid and his family visit the garden at Orlando Junior Academy

Marshall Reid (wearing a new “Homegrown” t-shirt”) and his family took time from their nationwide book tour to visit our garden and see what’s growing at OJA.  Marshall and his Mom, Alex, have written a book titled “Portion Size Me“.  Like many kids Marshall had found that unhealthy eating habits were beginning to have negative consequences in his life.  Unlike many kids Marshall decided to make a change, a big one.  After seeing the movie “Supersize Me”, a film that follows one man as he eats nothing but McDonald’s food for 30 days, Marshall committed to try the exact opposite.  For one month he would eat healthier food in appropriately sized portions.   After this positive experience, documented on Youtube,  the whole Reid family decided to take on the challenge of eating more consciously and healthfully.  “Portion Size Me” is an account of this family’s adventure.  The Reids  have gained national attention as a family that is on a journey in more ways than one.  They will be crossing the country in this Airstream trailer sharing their experience and learning from the experiences of others.

One Family on a Mission

 Perhaps what is most impressive about this family is their humble, honest approach to a healthier lifestyle.  Marshall’s mom, Alex, believes, “there’s no silver bullet.” and admits, “We are a work in progress.”   They just hope families across the country will join them as they swap unhealthy ingredients for better ones, shop local markets and farms when they can, stick to the correct portion sizes, and never give up on themselves. Thanks for stopping by Reid family.  Godspeed and safe travels!