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El Monte School Garden Grows Fresh Produce and Healthy Kids

(Taken from | By Laurel Randolph)

“Tomatoes, cucumbers, melons, beans, strawberries, eggplant, sugarcane, guava, corn…”

Liz Christy and Marianne Zaugg list the bounty of spring produce that’s being planted at the Arroyo High School community garden before excitedly listing plans they have for improving the space. Christy and Zaugg are from ECo Urban Gardens, a small-scale agricultural nonprofit that partnered with the high school in 2016. The goal was to transform a barren piece of land into a lush teaching garden. Over the last few years, the community has watched the space go from a few neglected beds to an expansive working garden producing fresh produce.

The school garden began as a student project in 2015, spurred on by KCETLink’s Youth Voices program. “Our goal was to create a project that could help the students at Arroyo High School learn about our current environment, local food systems, and urban agriculture, but most importantly redefine the negative way others see our city,” wrote the pilot class of Arroyo High School students working at the garden.

Upon seeing the garden’s positive effect in the community (where nearly half of which lies in a food desert), the school partnered with ECo Urban Gardens to keep the project going. “We weren’t really gardeners, so we needed someone who knew what they were doing,” explained principal Angelita Gonzales-Hernandez. Soon after, the garden started to receive funding, with a Healthy Living grant kicking things into high gear. City of Hope, who supplied the grant, is a comprehensive cancer treatment center headquartered just a few miles from the high school. “We felt this was a really great way to create a sustainable healthy food movement in the school district,” explains City of Hope’s Nancy Clifton-Hawkins. “Now we’ve been able to really expand the vision of how this program can truly impact the health and the lifestyle of people living around the campus as well.”

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