Architecture that makes a difference

Cultivating Health

The project created by student Emilie (Naismith) Hoffman stands out for a number of reasons, most specifically for her recognition and creation of synergies: between environmental and social issues, between health, nutrition and education, and between place, program, and opportunity.  Emilie was able to act upon something very important to her – nutrition and the need for a connection to a ‘food culture’, which sadly seems to be fading in contemporary society.  She drew influence from the Edible Schoolyard Project, as well as Barbara Kingsolver’s book ‘Animal, Vegetable, Miracle’ to motivate her investigations.  Working with faculty and administrators at Wass Elementary, as well as a local family farmer, Emilie created what she called the ‘Cultivating Health’ project.

Detail of bus stop and 'mobile canopy'

“The project Cultivating Health promotes a food curriculum that integrates experiential learning at the Elementary School level (grades K-5),” states Emilie, “while providing a platform for local farmers to promote easily-available healthy food.  The goal is to create a beautiful and sustainable environment that inspires personal and social responsibility through gardening, a teaching kitchen and mobile kiosks.  ‘Experiential Learning’ consists of three components: knowledge (concepts, facts, information, and prior experience), activity (knowledge applied to current, ongoing tasks) and reflection (thoughtful analysis and assessment of one’s own activity and its contribution to personal growth and impact on the environment).  The project implements experiential learning by providing a teaching kitchen that fosters knowledge, gardening that fosters activity and journaling that fosters reflection.

This program fosters a learning environment with a strong image that supports daily educational opportunities to be designed to integrate culture, history, language, ecology, biology, and other classroom-related subject areas into the preparation of food from the garden.  Students will learn items such as:  where our food comes from, how it is produced, and the relationship between food and health and food and the environment.  The kitchen is a teaching tool that helps build food and gardening knowledge, and emphasizes hands on learning.  The Garden is designed and maintained using sound ecological practices that are reflected in all aspects of the project, from the way the food is grown, harvested and prepared, to the recycling of waste back into the earth.  Local farmers are role models and community teachers.  On weekends, mobile kiosks are rolled out at the school to create a farmers market.  The market helps increase farmers’ sales and put money back into the local community.  The market promotes opportunities for learning and fosters community engagement by striving to link food, culture, health and environment.”

'Pop-up' farmer's market

What is most impressive about Emilie’s proposal is the comprehensive thinking about place and time.  She not only designed places and objects, but fully considered the annual cycles of agriculture and education, seeking to create a constructive synergy between these two growth systems.  Furthermore, her planning and use proposal considers the under-utilization of public school grounds on the weekends, and during the summer, offering the parking lot as a ‘pop-up’ farmer’s market which brings fresh food into the community while making enhanced use of a public asset.  Emilie is an example of a student who really took the lessons of this studio to heart.

“The most important thing I’ve learned” she states, “is to DO and CREATE good things no matter how big / small / important / miscellaneous the task at hand seems.  I’ve learned that architects have the ability to see things as they can be; they have a special skill set which goes beyond simply designing the physical environment.  This studio taught us how to look at ‘problems’ in a new way and how to compose thoughtful solutions.  It taught me about people and communities and how design is so much bigger than built space – it’s about creating good…about improving quality of life.  Lastly, I learned a great deal about being a leader by going out and finding a client, working with a client and presenting design solutions.  I think it’s wonderful that this class gave us the platform to be leaders more than followers!”

view of student greenhouse

While the project has not moved forward from the concept stages, Emilie continues “to be inspired by the links between health, food and design, and how we can integrate them into our daily lives.”

For more information on the Edible Schoolyard project, go to http://edibleschoolyard.org/

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