An Olive Oil-Centered Curriculum in California Seeks to Help an Ailing County

Despite its agricultural mite, Kern County suffers from elevated levels of food insecurity, obesity and diabetes compared to the rest of the state.

Buena Vista Edible Schoolyard integrates extra virgin olive oil into the curriculum to encourage consumption among young students.
By Thomas Sechehaye
Dec. 5, 2023 15:42 UTC
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Buena Vista Edible Schoolyard integrates extra virgin olive oil into the curriculum to encourage consumption among young students.

In one of California’s least healthy coun­ties, a grass­roots effort is under­way to pro­mote healthy eat­ing habits among chil­dren with extra vir­gin olive oil at its core. 

The Buena Vista Edible Schoolyard serves about 1,000 stu­dents from kinder­garten to sixth grade. The cur­ricu­lum fol­lows a unique edu­ca­tional-nutri­tional model, with stu­dents learn­ing to har­vest and cook with award-win­ning extra vir­gin olive oil made from the school’s 370 Manzanilla olive trees.

Students develop a love of sea­sonal, healthy recipes and take these eat­ing habits home to improve the nutri­tional choices of their fam­i­lies.- Dylan Wilson, exec­u­tive direc­tor, Edible Schoolyard Kern County

The olive and olive oil-cen­tric lessons rep­re­sent a por­tion of what the pub­lic char­ter school calls its out­door class­room. The pro­gram cov­ers basic con­cepts of ecol­ogy, self-suf­fi­ciency, healthy eat­ing and math skills while devel­op­ing an appre­ci­a­tion for the envi­ron­ment.

This edi­ble edu­ca­tion pro­gram has a unique his­tory. In 2012, mature olive trees were trans­planted from Woodlake, in the Porterville area of California’s San Joaquin Valley, to Bakersfield 50 miles (80 kilo­me­ters) south. 

See Also:California Producers Celebrate Olio Nuovo

Darcy Marshall’s olive trees became a source of food, inspi­ra­tion and health for Edible Schoolyard Kern County stu­dents and the com­mu­nity.

With his love of the land and healthy cui­sine, Marshall was nur­tur­ing what would become a new busi­ness bring­ing ben­e­fits to thou­sands of fam­i­lies in our agri­cul­tural com­mu­nity and far beyond,” Dylan Wilson, the exec­u­tive direc­tor of Edible Schoolyard Kern County, told Olive Oil Times,

Marshall har­vests and presses the hand-picked olives each year,” he added. He named the bounty of his har­vests Buena Vista extra vir­gin olive oil, [which] has taken first place at the Kern County Fair since 2015.” 

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Buena Vista Edible Schoolyard serves about 1,000 students from kindergarten to sixth grade in Kern County, California.

Wilson described Buena Vista extra vir­gin olive oil as robust with aro­matic fla­vors. The oil is per­fect for enjoy­ing over a slice of freshly baked bread, in creamy vinai­grettes or hearty dishes such as soups and stews or grilled meats and roasted veg­eta­bles,” he said.

The 370 olive trees and the school­yard they sur­round are inti­mately linked in the lives of Kern County fam­i­lies of all eco­nomic con­di­tions and culi­nary tal­ents. The trees offer an out­door class­room for under­stand­ing the seed-to-table cycle. 

Seed-to-table

The seed-to-table con­cept refers to a kitchen’s prac­tice of uti­liz­ing ingre­di­ents cul­ti­vated in an onsite gar­den or farm. It involves chefs plant­ing and har­vest­ing sea­sonal pro­duce based on what grows best in that spe­cific sea­son and region, meet­ing the high demand for fresh ingre­di­ents. This approach reduces reliance on exter­nal ven­dors, min­i­mizes the car­bon foot­print, and safe­guards against pro­duc­tion short­ages.

Marshall’s land­scap­ing team cares for, stew­ards and har­vests with Edible Schoolyard Kern County’s sus­tain­able philoso­phies and prac­tices,” Wilson said. Following press­ing and bot­tling, Marshall donates the fin­ished extra vir­gin olive oil to Edible Schoolyard Kern County.”

The school then sells the olive oil to res­i­dents in Kern County and Southern California, with pro­ceeds going to its stu­dent pro­grams and the local com­mu­nity.

Marshall’s wife, Barbara Grimm Marshall, founded Grow Academies: pub­lic char­ter schools for kinder­garten through eighth-grade stu­dents in Arvin, Shafter and rural areas of Kern County.

The schools are built around a unique edu­ca­tional-nutri­tional model of edi­ble school­yards with olive trees on each cam­pus.

At the Edible Schoolyard Kern County and the Grow Academies, stu­dents learn to develop healthy eat­ing habits through nutri­tion, edu­ca­tion and hands-on seed-to-table expe­ri­ences.

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Buena Vista extra vir­gin olive oil sup­plies the kitchen class­rooms, in which young chefs learn to pre­pare, serve and enjoy the foods they have grown and har­vested from the gar­dens to which they tend.

Students develop a love of sea­sonal, healthy recipes and take these eat­ing habits home to improve the nutri­tional choices of their fam­i­lies,” Wilson said.

Despite being one of the lead­ing agri­cul­tural coun­ties glob­ally, Kern County strug­gles with a con­cern­ing real­ity: one in four com­mu­nity mem­bers faces food inse­cu­rity. 

The county presents a com­pelling case for sup­port­ing ini­tia­tives to edu­cate the com­mu­nity on healthy eat­ing.

Access to fresh, nutri­tious and afford­able food is lack­ing for many res­i­dents. The dan­gers are com­pounded by many fam­i­lies hav­ing a lim­ited under­stand­ing of how to max­i­mize the nutri­ent value of avail­able pro­duce. 

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Despite a rich agricultural heritage, Kern County suffers from alarming rates of food insecurity, obestiy and diabetes.

Additionally, the county grap­ples with alarm­ingly high rates of obe­sity and dia­betes, rank­ing 53rd out of 58 coun­ties in California for over­all well­ness.

Our mis­sion is to proac­tively address these chal­lenges by inspir­ing future gen­er­a­tions to cul­ti­vate a healthy and pos­i­tive rela­tion­ship with their food,” Wilson said. Looking ahead, we envi­sion deep­en­ing our con­nec­tions with com­mu­nity part­ners and expand­ing our array of pro­grams.” 

Since 2019, the Edible Schoolyard net­work has flour­ished, encom­pass­ing eight affil­i­ated edi­ble school­yard pro­grams.

The growth has been remark­able, with the com­mu­nity whole­heart­edly embrac­ing the approach of impart­ing basic con­cepts related to the seed-to-table cycle to chil­dren,” Wilson said. We firmly believe that by instill­ing these lessons in young minds, we are effect­ing pos­i­tive changes in the eat­ing habits of their fam­i­lies.”

Wilson said the project is far­sighted, tak­ing a multi­gen­er­a­tional approach to more broadly improv­ing aware­ness of extra vir­gin olive oil and healthy eat­ing pat­terns. 

Moving for­ward, we remain ded­i­cated to fos­ter­ing a health­ier and more resilient com­mu­nity, ensur­ing that our efforts con­tribute to a sus­tain­able and pos­i­tive future,” he said.

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Buena Vista Edible Schoolyard sells extra virgin olive oil made from 370 olive trees grown on school grounds.

At the Edible Schoolyard Kern County, a cen­tral tenet of the teach­ing phi­los­o­phy is the pro­mo­tion of healthy eat­ing habits, with a par­tic­u­lar empha­sis on con­sum­ing whole foods.

While adults may face chal­lenges in alter­ing their dietary rou­tines, we empha­size that it’s never too late to make pos­i­tive changes, and a key aspect is incor­po­rat­ing more whole foods into one’s diet,” Wilson said.

According to Wilson, iden­ti­fy­ing and under­stand­ing whole foods – those in their orig­i­nal, unprocessed state – is fun­da­men­tal to fos­ter­ing a nutri­tious lifestyle.

The pro­gram puts these prin­ci­ples into action by encour­ag­ing peo­ple of all ages to make con­scious choices in favor of whole foods, min­i­mize the con­sump­tion of ultra-processed alter­na­tives and actively sup­port local seed-to-table or food lit­er­acy pro­grams.

Many local edi­ble edu­ca­tion pro­grams, such as these California school pro­grams, are ini­ti­ated and sus­tained by com­mu­nity mem­bers, often fac­ing finan­cial chal­lenges. 

Local sup­port, whether through vol­un­teer­ing or finan­cial con­tri­bu­tions, can sig­nif­i­cantly impact these pro­grams and con­tribute to the com­mu­ni­ty’s over­all well-being,” Wilson said. This is espe­cially vital when these pro­grams involve edu­cat­ing chil­dren, as they play a cru­cial role in enhanc­ing the health and knowl­edge base of the com­mu­nity.”

Our mes­sage is one of life­long learn­ing about food, fos­ter­ing health­ier eat­ing habits, and actively sup­port­ing local ini­tia­tives that pro­mote seed-to-table aware­ness and food lit­er­acy,” he con­cluded. By doing so, we col­lec­tively con­tribute to indi­vid­ual well-being, com­mu­nity improve­ment, and a more sus­tain­able and informed approach to food choices.”



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