In a town north of Los Angeles, Mar Vista Elementary School stands almost completely surrounded by farmland. On one side is a field of strawberries, the crop that made the town famous. On the other, there are rows and rows of hoop houses containing what they’re pretty sure is artichokes. The town has long been an agricultural community, and many of the students at Mar Vista are from families that work in the fields. According to the district’s Director of Nutrition Services, Pamela Lee, “[The kids’ families] don’t necessarily see that as the noble profession that it is, and they’re not necessarily going to go home and then grow food at home. I really feel like there’s a gap there that needs to be bridged somehow, so that people A) feel respected and feel respect for their profession of working out in these fields and B) know that connecting with the earth and growing your own food is such an empowering thing you can do.” To help bridge this gap, Mar Vista’s FoodCorps AmeriCorps service member, Katie Kamimoto, is creating positive experiences with growing food in the school garden.
The garden was built at the beginning of this school year. With the help of a Garden Grant from the Whole Kids Foundation, which was developed in partnership with FoodCorps, they were able to build an outdoor classroom, a row of umbrella-fitted tables for shade in the constant California sun. Later this year, they will also buy a garden shed with funding from the Whole Kids Foundation. FoodCorps continues to support the Garden Grant program by partnering with our alumni to review the 1,200+ grant applications per year. Each recipient is awarded a $2,000 mini-grant to support school garden projects, such as the outdoor classroom at Mar Vista Elementary. At the beginning of garden lessons, the students assemble at the tables while Katie gives some context and instructions for that day’s hands-on activity. Today, she’s teaching all about worms and the benefits they give to the soil, and the kids will get to place worms into the garden beds and harvest a few carrots and beets.
After the seated lesson, the kids divide into groups for the hands-on activity. In one group, they are gently lifting handfuls of worms and dirt from a bucket, then digging into the garden bed to place worms underground. In the other, kids are thrilled to pull a carrot out of the ground and reveal the mystery that was once hidden in the dirt. Taking her second big bite from a just-pulled, freshly-washed raw beet, one student exclaimed, “It tastes sweet! Like candy, but from the ground.” Being in the garden is exciting; kids look in wonder as worms wriggle in their hands and carrots that they planted earlier in the year are finally pulled from the ground. They are excited to try the vegetables that they have seeded, watered, and now harvested. When asked if food tastes better when you grow it yourself, one student said, “Yes, because it’s a sense of accomplishment.”
All photos by Steve Ettinger.