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Alice Waters 'preaching to the saved' on gardens

May 20, 2009 | 11:44 am

Alice The people trying to raise money for a garden at the Canyon Charter School got the hottest name in school food to talk at a fundraiser Tuesday night. Chef Alice Waters talked about her dreams for school meals with a teenager from Massachusetts who created a farm at his high school.

The near-full-house crowd, lots of moms and kids, was enthusiastic, lining up to have Waters sign her books, applauding several times during the talk. One man remarked, "Man, this is the place for my single guy friends to come."

And as Waters noted, she was "preaching to the saved."

Sam Levin and two schoolmates started Project Sprout at their high school in western Massachusetts that now provides produce to three schools from a 12,000-square-foot garden. But he told the crowd at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica that the project was not just about gardening, but about organizing a community around an idea and "a powerful social and political movement."

Waters lavished praise on Levin and his project, noting that his generation is not "questioning is this the right thing to do" -- they are taking action.

Waters herself was inspired by time spent in France, where food was "precious" and connected to agriculture and to culture and family. That experience and her work at her Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse, combined with a stint as a schoolteacher, she said, helped lead to her interest in school gardens. She started an "Edible Schoolyard" project at a middle school in Berkeley that now has a garden class and a kitchen class.

Water said the vegetable garden the Obamas started at the White House was an inspiring step. But she said she wants to see every child get fed nutritious and delicious food at school, for free.

Both responded to criticism that Waters' views are elitist, that many Americans cannot afford to eat the way she advocates. But she said it's not elitist to demand and to get good food. And the students at Levin's school and their garden are "as far away from elitist as you can get," Levin said. 

The audience paid $25 in advance, $30 at the door for tickets. Proceeds go to the school, which has about 350 children in kindergarten through fifth grade on a campus in Santa Monica Canyon near the ocean.

-- Mary MacVean

Photo: Alice Waters at Chez Panisse. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

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