Asphalt to Apples: Sprouting Healthy Kids and Gardens
The Garden School Foundation (GSF) has a vision of a Los Angeles community where every child grows, cooks, and eats fresh local produce every day of their lives - in school! Angelinos should capitalize on our most famous characteristic - fabulous weather - to cultivate a city and county with green space and a bountiful harvest accessible to everyone. In partnership with the Farm to Preschool program at the Urban & Environmental Policy Institute (UEPI) at Occidental College, which focuses on the early childhood years, we propose the following multi-pronged idea to get us there: 1) Build the capacity of entire school communities to support the growth of healthy children through County-wide trainings for teachers, parents, and community volunteers to build the skills necessary to maximize the potential of gardens, thus transforming eating habits for a lifetime. 2) Create the first LA School Garden Network Resource website. While innovative school garden programs exist in the LA region, our urban sprawl tends to isolate programs and schools. We propose to gather, share and leverage our resources to create a force of sustainable change in the region. 3) Host a county-wide school garden forum and resource fair to gather teachers and garden advocates to celebrate the wonderful work happening while inspiring and supporting others to transform their own schools to include outdoor learning environments. By working with and learning from each other we can cultivate a community that will nourish and support the growth of the whole child. Currently, children in LA, particularly those from low income and historically underserved communities of color, suffer from poor health due in part to the debilitating effects of obesity, often stemming from an unbalanced diet lacking fresh fruits and vegetables. Obesity rates in preschool-aged children enrolled in WIC (Women, Infants and Children) in LA are over 22% among Latino children and over 15% of Black children. The link between obesity and low access to healthy food in “food deserts,” among other indicators, is well proven. Furthermore, we know that if children are eating more fresh fruits and veggies they have a lower risk of developing obesity and obesity-related diseases such as diabetes, with health effects that could stay with them their entire lives. The good news is that recent studies have shown that if children grow their own food, they are more likely to eat it, a fact that many teachers and parents can testify to firsthand. Given LA’s ideal conditions for growing food and a plethora of unused school land, we can ensure that every child has the opportunity of the benefits of growing fresh food as an integral part of their Prek-5th grade education. This would transform the school and preschool landscape from asphalt to apples -and the hundreds of other fruits and vegetables kids can grow! We propose to cultivate the conditions that will enable every child in LA to grow up having the knowledge, support, and resources at their fingertips to become healthy, connected, and activated adults. This will create a continuum and community of learning from the preschool years through elementary school, using schools as the most obvious setting for change. Our idea builds on the important work that’s already being done and sets the stage for transformative change on a county-wide scale through capacity-building, networking and resource sharing. 1. Capacity-building Preschool and elementary school teachers will be trained on age-appropriate core standards-based nutrition, garden curricula from GSF (Seed to Table) or UEPI (Farm to Preschool’s Harvest of the Month), and basic gardening skills. These curricula effectively link core learning standards such as math, literacy and science to gardens and local healthy food in a school-based setting. In addition, parent workshops will focus on home gardening, affordable healthy foods, empowering parents to find their voice and advocate for healthier food at schools. Community volunteers will be trained in school garden curricula, garden management best practices, and be connected to existing resources. 2. Los Angeles School Garden Network website This website will be designed to focus on school garden resources in the LA region, as well as providing up to date information on events and giveaways, and an online forum for parents, teachers and volunteers to communicate and share best practices, challenges, resources, and advice. 3. School Garden Forum A school garden forum will culminate the school year to bring together all preschool-grade 5 schools with gardens as well as those inspired to start their own programs. This forum will host speakers, discussion roundtables, showcase gardens, programs and resources, provide skill building cooking demos and provide the type of interaction and capacity-building movement in Los Angeles that is sorely lacking
What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?
The Garden School Foundation was founded in 2005 with the mission to create a model of garden-based education for Los Angeles schools that would advance health outcomes and experiential learning opportunities for elementary students. Eight years later, we’ve created the most comprehensive program in the city, with students at our pilot site visiting the ¾ acre kitchen garden every other week during the school day for classes in everything from Science and Language Arts to Cooking and Nutrition. Our Seed to Table curriculum, to be published this June in partnership with the verynice.co design company, is the first of its kind to create a simple, concise, standards-based framework for integrating gardens into elementary schools, and stands to transform garden-based education in Southern California for many years to come.
In addition to piloting this program at the 24th Street Elementary School, GSF has worked with Widney High, a school for students with multiple physical and developmental disabilities, to create a Horticulture vocational program that includes a commercial greenhouse operation and vegetable garden. We are working with the school to create job opportunities for these students, connecting them with local urban agriculture organizations and farmers’ markets so they can make meaningful contributions to their local community.
GSF has cultivated a sustained network of community volunteers that contribute over 4,500 hours of volunteer labor each year to our organization. We train 6 interns each semester that go on to hold jobs furthering garden-based education opportunities for Los Angeles youth, and host hundreds of visitors to our site each year that come to learn from our model.
Our partner, the Urban & Environmental Policy Institute (UEPI) at Occidental College, was instrumental in creating, cultivating and expanding farm to school programs, which are now linked by a national network throughout the United States. UEPI has many other innovative programs involving research and policy change, including the Farm to Preschool program. Farm to Preschool is viewed at a model program nationwide, is a national leader of the emerging Farm to Preschool movement, and was given a recognition award by Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Child Care initiative in 2012. UEPI’s Farm to Preschool program partners with child care agencies, preschools and family child care sites, as well as many local and national organizations. Begun as a pilot program in 2009, it is now expanding throughout the state, has been tailored to Hawaiian culture, and is currently working with the Navajo Nation. Occidental College was named to the 2013 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with Distinction in recognition of its exemplary community service and Farm to Preschool was a featured program.
Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.
The Urban & Environmental Policy Institute (UEPI) at Occidental College is an academic center conducting research and policy work with the aid of strong community-based partnerships. UEPI has been a strong leader in establishing fresh food programs at both the preschool and public school levels for over 14 years, including for low income preschool and after school facilities. UEPI is also a leader in the emerging national Farm to Preschool movement, creating a network of Farm to Preschool stakeholders across the country. The Farm to Preschool program brings local, affordable food to underserved preschoolers, their families and the wider community as well as creating a learning environment through class-based lessons and school gardens.
Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?
Both GSF and UEPI have extensively evaluated their programs and have validated survey tools applicable to this proposed project. To evaluate preschool-grade 5 teacher trainings (for in-class curriculum and on-site gardening as a teaching tool and for school consumption), teachers will be given surveys at the end of the training to measure effectiveness and perceived increased capacity to offer and sustain this garden-based program at their school. Success will be measured by the number of teachers in the training who feel confident they can implement the program at their site. Surveys (before and at the end of the program, ‘pre’ and ‘post’ tests) will be given to a subset of preschoolers (at least 100 children) and elementary students to evaluate any increases in knowledge of fruits and vegetables, how food is grown, and measures any changes in food preferences. Success will be measured by changes in knowledge and preferences as compared to schools who have not received the program, using data collected from a similar population during Farm to Preschool’s pilot program phase in 2011. Increase in healthy food consumption will be measured from surveys given to teachers during the school year, as well as from taste test sheets that record how many children have eaten the produce (such as from the garden) and how many liked it. Success will be measured by the increased number of children who try the produce as well as like it, over the course of the school year.
Teachers and parents will be interviewed in focus groups to assess their knowledge of and capacities for using gardens as educational tools to promote increased fruit and vegetable consumption amongst children. Parents will also be interviewed as to their knowledge of and desire to create sustained garden-based programming in their local schools, and the different ways other schools are approaching gardens. Volunteers will be surveyed as to their attitudes about their own capacities to help sustain school gardens and implement programming, as well as their knowledge of local resources available to support their efforts.
For the website, the number of web hits will be monitored as well as online forum activity between teachers, parents and other community members. Success will be measured by an actively used website and vibrant forum that provides technical assistance and troubleshooting to school garden programs.
A short evaluation form will be distributed at the end of year garden forum to measure increases in social and professional connectedness among participating schools, increase in knowledge and inspiration from the speakers and other related events at the forum, as well as the interest, drive and capacity of additional schools and teachers to start programs in the 2014-2015 school year.
How will your project benefit Los Angeles?
It’s a well examined and researched fact that the overall health of children in Los Angeles is poor, with children as young as age 3 suffering from pre-diabetic symptoms. While childhood obesity rates have leveled off in Los Angeles, they continue to be high, with Latino and African American children experiencing disproportionate effects of obesity and related health impacts, due to many factors such as income, housing and food insecurity as well as low access to healthy food with high exposure to calorie and chemical laden junk food. Children in L.A. and around the country are currently so unhealthy that their life expectancy is projected to be lower than that of their parents.
Research on school gardens has shown that children eat more fresh fruits and vegetables, perform better on tests, and are more likely to have higher attendance rates when they experience gardening at school. In addition, gardens have been shown to increase children’s sense of ownership and pride of their accomplishments, an essential step toward taking control of their own health. As part of the regular school day, gardens provide a rich experience that improves both the capacity for learning and the ability to make healthy, informed decisions about their diets - and lives. Even children as young as age 2 can garden and benefit from such experiential activities. Farm to Preschool has found that children as young as 4 are asking their parents to buy and grow the foods they’ve eaten and grown themselves at school, something repeated in the feedback Garden School Foundation staff receive about the 6-11 year olds in their program.
By inspiring, creating and sustaining a culture of gardens at schools, children, their families and their teachers will all benefit. Benefits are numerous and include (1) greater access to healthy foods; (2) increased consumption of healthy foods; (3) increased learning in all subjects and core standards; (4) skill building through the act of sowing, growing, harvesting and cooking food, as well as mentoring of older children to the young; (5) improved connection to and understanding of the environment that we live in; (6) more visually appealing schools that enhance learning and behavior; (7) a culture of connectedness to our land and each other by bringing schools and the community together; and certainly (8) the culminating effect of improved health outcomes for children as well as their families for generations.
What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?
Los Angeles in 2050 has transformed its communities, harvesting its “lowest-hanging fruit” to make the best use of its most neglected yet abundant resources. In 2050 we see all children eating healthy foods because they’ve learned how to grow them, and they and their families know that there’s no better place on earth for kids to grow food and learn outside every day of the year than right here in L.A. We’ve capitalized upon the fact that LAUSD land is public land and therefore it is and should be open and trusted to the public to gather, garden, learn, play, and collaborate whenever school is not in session. We’ve created and sustained healthy communities throughout the county, because we’ve learned - and experienced - that in order to grow healthy kids, you have to cultivate their entire community to create a landscape where the HEALTHY choice is the EASY choice.
In this vision, we’ve spent the last 37 years creating and integrating gardens and the growing of food into each and every day of the school year and building the capacity of schools and teachers to harness the full potential of gardens to transform children’s health, from birth and beyond. We’ve hauled out thousands of acres of asphalt and replaced it with thriving ecosystems full of fruits, vegetables, insects, birds, California Live Oaks, wild Lupine, and native Elderberry trees. We’ve bridged the divides of race, socio-economics, and politics through digging our hands into the soil and cultivating beauty together. We’ve created a cohesive community of Angelenos that won’t settle for anything but the freshest, most delicious, most local, most healthy, most affordable fruits and vegetables for every single child in every city, every day of the year. We’ve made Los Angeles into the single most shining example of a city and a county that “got it right” by its children, and has in turn created a population more healthy, more active, and more in control of its health than any other in the country.