By Jan Bennett
Woodrow Wilson High School in Los Angeles, California
Within the past few years, aided by the decline of the economy, there have been a growing number of food deserts across America. This has become a serious issue in the fight to provide adequate nutrition to many children and families. School Spotlight salutes Woodrow Wilson High School in the El Sereno neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, for its role in working to eliminate this food deficit in their community to help make a difference. (To read the original Los Angeles Times article in its entirety, click here.)
According to the CDC, “food deserts are areas that lack access to affordable fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low fat milk, and other foods that make up the full range of a healthy diet.” After working with a nonprofit in doing a comparative study of El Sereno’s access to fresh foods versus other communities, one undeniable conclusion was found: they were in need of another community garden.
As an answer to these findings — and with the help of his class — Kevin Armenta, a teacher of Environmental and Urban Studies at Wilson, spearheaded a project to change this reality. They transformed a forsaken back entrance to the school that was sitting in disrepair and created a healthy food source option, the People’s Garden. According to the article, Armenta says of the garden “It’s a physical solution to a research topic about food deserts.”
They are also using it as a community-building tool. Different cultures representing the makeup of El Sereno are coming together to assist in the success of the People’s Garden, as it is aptly named. However, the physical labor — think planting, weeding, and watering — is done by the students and staff. The students began preparing the seeds last winter that are currently in the ground. They have a vested interest in this project, which is evidenced by their presence at workdays, where time is spent doing general maintenance. After all, the garden’s control ultimately lies in the hands of the few students, teachers and community members who are involved.
Because Wilson High School members want this project to blossom, they utilize the guidance of the Native Green Gardener Program, a group offering advice that teaches sustainable gardening and landscaping practices.
The members of the high school are focusing “on growing plants that reflect the communities of El Sereno.” Among other items, included in this garden menagerie are medicinal plants from China and the “three sisters” of Mesoamerica: corns, beans and squash.
The People’s Garden and Wilson High have endured a few setbacks due to vandals destroying the water delivery system — three garden hoses that snake down through the garden, lying in wait for someone to use — but they keep their eye on the prize. This garden is a living representation and physical manifestation of the will of a few to make lives of many better.
Food deserts are a hard fact to swallow, but it is a reality that many still live with. More and more people, organizations and groups are seeing the need and rallying to close the gap on a serious issue affecting too many in the United States. Schools, in particular, have been hit hard by this. A growing number of children and families are participating in free meal programs at their schools on a daily basis. Include in this the food deserts that are becoming more of a norm and it makes for a challenging future of a healthier America.
What these dedicated “urban gardeners” are doing to combat this issue deserves accolades. Thanks to the endeavors of Armenta, his students and community members, and Woodrow Wilson High School, what started out as a school research project for a few students has now become an invaluable lesson and tool for its community. Kudos!
Know of any plan(s) or organization(s) in your community or schools working toward a similar goal? Use the box below to tout the commendable efforts of those working to make a difference.