Environmental Quality / 2013
EnrichLA A Garden in EVERY School!
Our idea is simple: A Garden in EVERY School. Over the last 2 years EnrichLA has installed gardens of all types in schools throughout Los Angeles County, from the West Side of Los Angeles to the San Gabriel Valley. We will continue our work, building more gardens in schools throughout Los Angeles, focusing on low-income and under-served neighborhoods. School gardens benefit students and communities in a variety of ways. The most immediate impact for these children is that after our school garden build, students have instant access to green outdoor spaces. Areas that were formerly unused parking lots or asphalt slabs are now transformed into lush and inviting gardens. In addition to improved aesthetics, these outdoor spaces can, over time, impact the health and wellness of children and their surrounding community. Air quality will be improved, leading to a lower cancer risk from air toxicity, and an increased exposure to the natural world will lead to a higher level of environmental stewardship. With this new exposure and education, students will learn how to implement changes in their daily life that reduce waste, energy consumption, and pollution. The gardens also act as catalysts to show students just how versatile, delicious, and fun healthy food can be, developing positive attitudes toward healthy food and increasing consumption of those foods. The startling obesity statistics in Metro Los Angeles alone demonstrate a strong need for this kind of program.
What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?
In less than two years as a designated non-profit organization, EnrichLA has built over 35 school gardens. These gardens range from 1 acre farms, to wildlands schoolyard habitats, to reading gardens, or small edible raised beds. Our school gardens are inexpensive. They are built on a shoe-string budget using the power of community volunteers to fuel these massive transformations.
In addition to building school gardens, we have also provided “Home and Garden Economics” programs at many of these schools. With this program, our garden stewards plant seedlings with students and provide regular maintenance to the garden. Once these fresh fruits and vegetables are ready to be harvested, students prepare healthy snacks in their outdoor kitchen. Throughout this process students are learning about science, life-cycles, composting, the importance of recycling, and they are developing a hands-on relationship to the source of their food.
We have seen middle school students enthusiastically exclaim that beets are their new favorite vegetable. In surveys, students demonstrated that after the garden program they not only ate more fruits and vegetables, but also had more fruits and vegetables available to them in the home, suggesting that the impact goes further than just the classroom. At one school, the edible school garden program was the catalyst for a new “environmental magnet” program and has been credited as one key component in the improvement of overall test scores on the campus.
Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.
EnrichLA has partnered with organizations such as Whole Foods Markets, Gay for Good, Fox Gives, Kaiser Permanente, The Office of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Tree People and others to build school gardens and provide school garden programming throughout Los Angeles.
We will continue to nurture these partnerships and seek out additional collaborators who share our goal of enriching the lives of children and contributing to a healthier, happier Los Angeles.
Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?
There are both short and long term evaluations that will take place in order to determine the success and necessary revisions to our project.
In the short term, we will survey students and staff before and after their involvement in the garden. We will track changes in access to fresh, healthy foods, the amount of fruits and vegetables consumed per day, attitudes toward environmental responsibility, as well as time spent in the garden or in outdoor classroom settings.
We will also collect and analyze data from sources such as the LA County Department of Public Health to determine the long term positive effects of school garden education, by evaluating changes in obesity and diabetes rates, and improvement in air quality and access to parks.
Success would mean more children having access to green outdoor spaces, and more teachers utilizing these spaces for classes. Success would be an improvement in health due to increased consumption of fruits and vegetables and a healthier attitude toward overall wellness.
How will your project benefit Los Angeles?
Our project will benefit Los Angeles by bringing edible gardens into schools. These gardens cheer up communities, improve campus morale, and act as outdoor classrooms. For many students, these school gardens are their only access to green, outdoor spaces in their neighborhood. By improving the environmental quality of their surroundings, children are more likely to succeed. We have seen first-hand how access to edible gardens can improve test scores and community involvement.
Additionally, these gardens address the serious problem of obesity and obesity related diseases among our residents.
According to the CDC, 1 in 3 children born in 2000 will contract diabetes in their lifetime. If that child is either Hispanic or Black, the odds of this happening is increased to 1 in 2. In response to the staggering childhood obesity statistics, the Center for Disease Control states that:
“Schools play a particularly critical role by establishing a safe and supportive environment with policies and practices that support healthy behaviors. Schools also provide opportunities for students to learn about and practice healthy eating and physical activity behaviors”
Our school gardens directly address this issue, not by forcing children to eat healthy food, but by encouraging them through access and education.
What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?
For EnrichLA, success would be defined as a healthier, happier Los Angeles. Children in the most urban, asphalt covered areas of Los Angeles would have access to green, outdoor spaces. They would grow up learning about healthy, natural foods, and they would have access to these foods not only in the home, but in the classroom as well. They would be inspired to learn about the natural world- not forced. This education would lead to improved health, test scores, and a sense of community and environmental responsibility.
Currently, 1.6 million children in Los Angeles County do not have access to parks. Our school gardens change that, and in 2050 our goal would be for all children, particularly those in low-income, at risk and under-served neighborhoods of Los Angeles, to have access to green outdoor spaces. These spaces enrich the minds and bodies of children, their families, and the community as a whole.