Charlie Cart Helps Schools Teach Healthy Habits

BERKELEY, Calif. — Three California school districts recently began testing the latest tool to help students learn about healthy cooking and eating: the Charlie Cart.

Berkeley-based Carolyn Federman, who has worked with the Edible Schoolyard Project for 15 years, created the Charlie Cart, a portable kitchen that helps bring cooking equipment into the nation’s public schools. Federman partnered with Brian Dougherty of Berkeley’s Celery to Design — with support from renowned chefs, authors and food activists Alice Waters and Michael Pollan — to develop the device. Pittsburg Unified School District, Ventura Unified School District and Richmond Unified School District all agreed to participate in the pilot program, which launched earlier this year.

The moveable kitchen features three workstations and includes an induction cooktop and small oven, as well as a rinsing station with a hand-pump faucet and a drought-friendly greywater recovery system. It also offers other kitchen tools such as mixing bowls, cutting boards and utensils for 30 students.

“We [need] to educate the next generation about the connections between food, health and the environment if we hope to solve the major challenges of our times,” noted Pollan in the project’s Kickstarter campaign. “The Charlie Cart is the right idea at the right time.”

The portable kitchen (currently priced between $6,000 and $8,000) includes sample recipes and lesson plans tied to Common Core standards, based on Federman’s experience with the Edible Schoolyard Project, as well as online video training to get kids cooking in the classroom. It is also designed to move easily between classrooms and can work inside and outside in a school garden or on the playground, which makes it easier to get more students involved.

Charlie Carts could also help expand programming in schools that don’t have funding for a full cooking curriculum. Even Berkeley Unified School District’s notable cooking and gardening program has experienced cutbacks in recent years. “All students should have the opportunity to learn about food,” Federman told Edible East Bay. “Learning to cook is a fundamental life skill. And the cart is such a fun and inspiring way to engage children in the process.”

The Charlie Cart Project team hopes to bring the cost of the unit down as they build volume and develop partnerships with outside funders.