Visionary series: Edible Schoolyard NYC

By teaching kids to grow and prepare their own food, Kate Brashares aims to end childhood obesity and create a new generation of healthy foodies.

Helping others isn’t just right thing to do—its also good for business. Case in point: Warby Parker. Led by co-founders Neil Blumenthal and David Gilboa, the innovative eyewear company has transformed the way people think about buying glasses and giving back, proving it is possible for companies to do good in the world while still being profitable. Inspired by their success, we partnered with WP to recognize other socially conscious entrepreneurs in our third annual Visionaries Series. These forward thinkers have blended business with philanthropy, changing the game for their industries as well as millions of people in need around the world. Check back weekly to meet the complete class of 2015.

The Person: Kate Brashares

The Business:Edible Schoolyard NYCworks with public schools in underserved communities to transform the hearts, minds and eating habits of young New Yorkers by teaching them to grow, cook, eat and love healthy food through hands-on gardening and kitchen lessons.”

The Idea: “Our program was modeled after one in Berkeley, California championed by the amazing Alice Waters, chef and founder of Chez Panisse. Forty percent of New York City’s public school children are obese or overweight, and the obesity rate is twice that much in high needs schools. The problem is also unequivocally worse in communities of color. Black New Yorkers are three times more likely, and Hispanics twice as likely, to die of diabetes than white New Yorkers. We were inspired by this massive inequity and wanted to bring edible education to every child.”

The Goal: “We want healthy schools and healthy communities. We want schools to teach our children what real food is, and food should be accessible to everyone. There is something profoundly wrong about sweetened tomato sauce on a reheated slice of pizza being considered a serving of vegetables in a school lunch.”

The Impact: “We see about 1,200 students a year and ninety percent of the parents say their kids are now eating healthier foods—and requesting them, too. A father recently told me his children now ask salads and his daughter makes the dressing every night. We can’t be in every school ourselves so we started a training program: In the past year we’ve trained roughly 250 educators who have reached about 35,000 students—exponentially increasing our influence across the city.”

The Inspiration: “Our amazing kids! When I have a hard day, I think about our kids or walk into the garden and observe a class. There’s so much joy and exploration happening there every day.”

The Surprises: “I’ve surprised myself by realizing I can be that visionary leader. My job is to inspire others to join our journey and be a part of the change. If you care and believe in what you are doing, you have to step up and be a visionary for your organization. I’ve slowly, and somewhat reluctantly, accepted that this is a role that I can play.”

The X-Factor: “You have to focus on making your program the very best it can be. If you have a great program that makes a demonstrated impact, everything else—the money, resources, press—will come. Sometimes I think people forget that the resources are a means and not an end.”

The Future: “We want to be in more schools across New York City and beyond! I’m most excited about adapting our very successful program model and making it more nimble and scalable so we can be in more schools, teach more teachers how to implement the program and create a force for change within New York City public schools. We’ll see real change when kids, parents and teachers are all advocates for healthier schools, healthier food and healthier communities.”

The Visionary in Her Eyes: “Alice Waters of course! Jamie Oliver is another huge hero of mine. He’s really done transformative work, particularly, in the U.K, on school food and educating people about healthy food.”

The Message: “Teach your kids what real food is and where it comes from. Eat real food together with pleasure and with joy.”