Education / 2013

Kids who sling kale eat kale: Launch 5 School Garden CSAs in LAs Food Deserts

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Muir Ranch

Let us give kids jobs this summer growing and selling vegetables at 5 sites throughout Los Angeles. Let us finance their would-be produce empires with a replicable model that gives their non-profit partners or even "just classroom teachers" the means to enable young eaters to engage in the business of #food.

We can expand our current program model of urban school garden and rural farm partnership and create Muir Ranch Community Supported Agriculture satellites (CSA) that insert really amazing food into high need communities at the same time provide opportunities for non-profits with the energy and vision to be social entrepreneurs.

We work with farmers and their California abundance to provide really awesome food from the Santa Monica and Hollywood Farmers Markets.

WHO WE ARE IS MUIR RANCH.

We are a growing teen jobs program that looks like a 2 acre school farm, CSA vegetable social enterprise and catering start up. We have nearly 200 customers, 50 of whom are low income and fully subsidized via a Pasadena Children's Health Foundation grant, that receive the same weekly veg. box as our retail clients.

Our model gives our students at Muir High School the opportunity to run a business. We spend little time as "nutrition educators" preaching about the value of kale, kohlrabi and persimmons. But if the kids want to be successful business people they have to know their "product," so they eat it. No drama. No fuss. If you want to work here, eat kale. Michelle Obama would be so proud.

We started our program, not unlike Steve Jobs and that other Steve in a garage, with a vision and just ourselves as customers. Last year one teacher, then a neighbor and then a parent signed up. We had 20 customers our first month. With just under 200 customers currently we spend $6,000 a month on our produce, money for farmers, and we gross $12-15,000 per month from our client base. Everyone eats. Everyone. And our $30 weekly box is 50% tax-deductible.

Our vegetable subscription box is a better choice for our students, 90% of whom are on "free and reduced" school lunches and food stamps, SNAP. According to the Social Justice Learning Institute, LA families only spend 1-2% of their federal benefit on fresh fruits and vegetables, i.e. healthy food. Unacceptable. Horrible. And if you are Dr. Jonathon Fielding of LA County Health you can predict the billion dollar health economic impacts of diet on LA in 2050. Obesity, diabetes, hyper-tension, let alone the self-esteem and physical suffering associated with junk food, fast food and all things "flaming hot."

Couple that with the teen unemployment rate in NW Pasadena, Boyle Hts, Crenshaw, Sylmar and Inglewood you can paint a bleak picture. While we are a teaching program with at-risk, low income and other challenged youth and it is about process, we do, however, PRODUCE. As my students say, "it's expensive being a teenager, Mr. Mud." A simple paycheck is a game changer for my kids, 90% of whom who have never received one before. The simple dignity of having a phone is something that motivates my kids like no other.

We deliver our CSA to the City of Pasadena Health Dept, City Hall and the school district headquarters. We host open houses on Mondays for our school site pick up. Just having the students meet the customers, take checks, and provide customer service is a game changer. And the clients? They get kale.


What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

My students have iPods and don’t wear county ankle bracelets any more.

Alondra, Jacqui, Perla and Lali, all 15-18 year-old students, help manage a 6-figure start up: schedule, distribution and payroll.

They steal all the customers champagne grapes during the season. The business part of me cringes. The teacher says, “go ahead, eat them. they’re good for you and the customers don’t know they were in the CSA anyway.”

My kids know how to grow a “green zebra” tomato.

We won this year’s “Green Curriculum” award from the Green School Summit. We don’t have an actual curriculum. We do have an actual business. As an employer what matters to you???

Not a single case of food-born illness to date. Knock wood. Clean hands.

We haven’t missed a single CSA distribution since launch. Consistency.

50 Low-income families receive free CSA boxes thanks to the Pasadena Children’s Health Foundation. The wait list for other familes is 2-3 times this.

We have been approved by the USDA for SNAP electronic payments.

We host the LA County Master Gardeners, the largest food justice group in Los Angeles, as of this year. The LA County Master Food Preservers are not far behind.

Amongst Whole Foods’ Whole Kids Foundation’s 2,000 plus school garden grantees our grant was 5 times the average amount and the only one given in the country as a social enterprise business. The kids are invited to Austin, Texas in 2014 for the national corporate meeting.

We’ve brought on chef Ernie Miller of the Hollywood Farmers’ Market to teach in our semi-endowed “Julia Child Culinary Chair” as the kids learn to cook chard, kale, lentils and shiso. Yes, shiso.

Our second long table dinner at Muir Ranch with chef Matthew Poley of Heirloom LA in April 14. Come eat.

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

Business: Whole Foods Market Tutti Frutti Farm McGrath Family Farm Burkart Organiks Plug Connection Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds Seeds of Change South Central Farm Everson Royce Silverlake Wine Heirloom LA Athens Services Thank You For Coming

Gov and NonProf:

Pasadena City Health Dept Pasadena Unified Facilities Division Pasadena Garden Club LA County Health Dept LA Food Policy Council Hollywood Farmers Market, SEE LA LA County Master Gardener Program LA County Master Food Preserver Program California Association of Nurseries and Garden Centers Metabolic Studio Honey Love

Current Satelites: Social Justice Learning Institute, Inglewood Aveson Charter School, Pasadena/Altadena Whittier Backyard Farms, Whittier

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

Financials.

Within a year we will have obvious successful models and ones that need improvement amongst our 5 new partner sites. IF the satellites can build customers and secure additional funding they will grow. Their financials will paint a picture of the economics. How many jobs? How many customers? Is it sustainable?

Health.

What is the cost of “being healthy.” What is the cost of not? We can call on our Health Dept partners to measure in avery “epidemiological” way the effects of the CSA on the students, staff, and community.

Beauty.

Kale or asphalt?

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

Provide low-income teens jobs, work experience, socent exposure and fresh, organic veg.

Weigh the students, measure health impact

Bootstrap would-be school-garden based produce non-profit companies and teachers with an executable economic model

Insert fresh, organic produce into “food deserts.”

Support urban/rural farm partnerships in California

Identity best practices in the school garden/rural farm CSA model

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

Currently, there are 5,000 acres of asphalt in LA Unified School District campuses. If we are do be more sustainable, half of that amount could be fruit trees with their shade and apples or gardens with kale.

The students we teach now will be in their mid-fifties by then. If they develop an awareness of the natural world and the importance of diet we’ll only be in a better world for it.