BERKELEY -- The school district will ask the public for donations to run a drastically scaled down version of its groundbreaking gardening and cooking program next fall after losing all of its $2 million in federal funding.
For the past 12 years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has funded the program at 14 schools in the Berkeley district. But the money for next year is gone because of a change in priorities and because Berkeley has fewer low-income children who make the district eligible for extra money, officials say.
On Wednesday night, the school board agreed to kick in $600,000 for the next two years plus $50,000 for a fundraising consultant for one year.
Even with that money and a plan to raise private donations, the program will have just half the money next year, or about $1 million, as it did in the past 12 years.
"Not as many kids are going to get gardening classes, or the same number of kids will just get less," said Rachel Harris, a gardening teacher at John Muir Elementary School.
John Muir Principal Audrey Amos, whose students learn to collect and cook fresh eggs from the school's chicken coop and grow vegetables and edible flowers in the school garden, said she's happy to have at least some funding for the program.
"It's a crucial program because it helps educate the whole child, but it also integrates the things they learn in the classroom, like math, science and reading," Amos said. "It's one more way to engage the kids outside the classroom."
Berkeley was one of the first school districts in the nation to integrate garden and cooking classes with its overall curriculum including nutrition and fitness, said district spokesman Mark Coplan.
Melanie Parker, the former program supervisor for the gardening and cooking program who is helping with fundraising efforts, said she already has a team of two who will become the paid fundraising consultants.
Having the school district agree to partially fund the program was "a great win because we needed that financial backing to use as leverage in private fundraising," Parker said.
She said she expects much of the private money to come from foundations, then major individual donations and then corporations.
Parker said 24 Berkeley restaurants on May 30 will donate a portion of their proceeds to the program, raising $10,000 to $15,000. Visit www.berkeleydineout.com for more information.
Doug Oakley covers Berkeley. Contact him at 510-843-1408. Follow him at Twitter.com/douglasoakley.