Jacqueline Castro, a senior at Roosevelt High School’s Academy of Medical and Health Sciences, waters a school garden. / Credit: Diana Ochoa
The project aims to teach students about agriculture and nutrition and to help them develop sensible dietary habits. The gardens also can help to improve school lunches and to beautify the school.
Students say there aren’t enough nutritious options at Roosevelt. The cafeteria sometimes serves the same sugar-filled, fatty coffee cake for three consecutive days. Students also dislike what they describe as tasteless hamburgers and high calorie, sweet drinks.
“Though we know that our small garden will not be able to feed the entire school, we consider the garden as a practice run toward a better future and a contribution to a food revolution,” said Briana Ramírez, president of Student Voices at Roosevelt.
Ben Gertner, principal of the Communications, News Media and Technology School at Roosevelt and Maura Crossin, principal of the Academy of Medical and Health Science at Roosevelt, joined with interested students to build the gardens.
The Los Angeles Mayor’s Office, the Los Angeles Land Trust, Enrich L.A., Home Depot, Lowe’s, Gay for Good, and a handful of private donors also support the gardens with donations and volunteer help. The wood used to create sections within the garden cost about $1,500, which was the main expense, Gertner said. The city donated compost and soil, and Sylmar High School donated seeds.
Although Roosevelt has just started its gardens, planning began on a state level in 2007 with the “Garden in Every School” campaign of former California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell. O’Connell proposed a garden in every school to teach students about healthy dietary habits and help them improve academically.
The impact of such gardens on youth is just beginning to be studied. One small three-month study recently followed 34 low-income Latino students who participated in the L.A. Sprouts/Milagro Allegro Community Garden in Los Angeles. Researchers found that by participating in the program, the students lowered their body mass index (BMI) as well as their blood pressure, when compared to a control group.DOWN AND DIRTY
The Roosevelt project kicked off on May 22 on the Harvey Milk Day of Service, when students got down and dirty and planted the seeds. The statewide memorial and celebration honors Milk, a county supervisor for San Francisco and gay advocate who was gunned down on November 27, 1978.
In meetings with their principals, students helped decide what to grow. They dreamed of a healthy, green garden rich in organic produce. Now, as the strawberries, melons, tomatoes, and peppers ripen, three to six students alternate every two days to tend the garden.
Both Roosevelt schools have similar plans for the gardens. The Communications, News Media and Techno-logy School plans to teach students to grow their own produce and to use the vegetables and fruit for a school salad bar. The Academy of Medical and Health Science plans to make the garden a part of the school curriculum.
Yet despite all the volunteer effort, funding problems almost shut down the garden project. One of the primary donors pulled out, but Eliza Shaffy and Omar Denis Bongo Ondimba rescued the project to support the gay and lesbian community and to honor Harvey Milk.
FUTURE FUNDING PROBLEMS?
Garden costs were not included in this year’s school budget, which may lead to future funding problems.
“I’m counting on the students to voluntarily care for the garden,” said Gertner. “When we need new seedlings, I am hoping they can germinate their own seeds,” he explained.
Irene Pena, executive director of Proyecto Jardin near White Memorial Hospital, mentioned other obstacles that the Roosevelt gardeners may face. She has been involved with Proyecto Jardin since it started in 2000.
Pena and her colleagues discovered that building a community garden requires a work plan, knowledge regarding the care of the gardens, and financial resources.
Ramirez, the student leader and garden co-founder at Roosevelt, is optimistic about overcoming hurdles. She believes the garden project will prompt community involvement once neighbors see how youth can come together to make a difference. She plans to start a fund for supplies. She expects continuing interest in volunteering.
“Because the garden is at school,” she said, “there will always be more people and clubs in and out of campus who are willing to help out.”