The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Lifestyles

September 19, 2012

To teach kids about food, put planters in the playground

(Continued)

Principal Dana Butler says the garden has been transformational "in the sense that beautification and things growing distract" from some ugly realities of the school's tough neighborhood.

"It's one more opportunity for authentic learning," he says. It's "an outdoor science lab. It's about health and restoration. It's a lot of wonderful things that the kids can be a part of and be connected to."

Butler applauds Musk's ambition, but he cautions that Silicon Valley timelines won't be easy to pull off in a byzantine public school system, where even conducting a simple survey, as the Kitchen Community suggested last spring, requires multiple levels of approval and translation into foreign languages. "They need to come to terms with working with [Chicago Public Schools], which doesn't work in ways that many people might think are efficient or common sense. I think they will be successful if they do it slowly, if they don't try to do too much too fast," he says.

But the challenges inherent in the country's third-largest school district are exactly what attracted Musk to Chicago. The city has alarming rates of childhood obesity: More than 20 percent of low-income 2- to 4-year-olds are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, compared with 14 percent nationally.

"If we can make it work in Chicago, with harsh demographics, the diversity, the difficult weather," says Musk, "we will prove it can be done."

- - -

Black is a former Washington Post Food section staffer now based in Brooklyn, N.Y.

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