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  • Writer's pictureJill

Gardening for Good: The Los Angeles Leadership Academy School Gardens

Yesterday I visited a school garden managed by two generous, and expert gardeners, Andrea Baynes and Deena Goldstone, who 10 years ago committed to the East Los Angeles community of Lincoln Heights, and now devote time each week to tending school gardens, and developing curriculum and instruction for the Los Angeles Leadership Primary Academy located there.

The Los Angeles Leadership Academy is a Public Charter School, serving students TK- 12 on two separate campuses.

What a treat it was to tour the garden with them. Their enthusiasm for the garden and for their students was so lovely to witness. Even in these trying times, when students are not at the school, and probably will not be for the foreseeable future, these two women were hard at work, pruning, harvesting, and planting for the future. As the pandemic has raged, the garden has changed its purpose from providing student experience to providing family sustenance. Now, instead of planning the garden for the fall curriculum, they will plant for a fall harvest, so that they can feed the families from the school with fresh produce, and provide cheery fresh flowers for the students’ homes while they navigate the quarantine.

This picture of a bountiful harvest is from the farm located at the Los Angeles Leadership Academy (LALA) High School.

There, a full time farm manager, Haley Lucitt, tends and harvests a large plot of land to both instruct and feed the students and families of the school. As we visited, she delivered this beautiful harvest to the LALA Primary Academy, where families from both schools are invited to come and pick up free produce from the farm each week. Andrea and Deena told me that all the produce is gone by the end of the day – families are eager to share in the harvest, and most certainly benefit from the fresh produce straight from the garden.

The goal of the LALA Primary Academy School garden is that every child can have a personal experience in the garden, and be able to say “I grew this.” They will learn where their food comes from, while simultaneously expanding their palates, trying fruits and vegetables that they have never heard of before! Andrea and Deena told me that while most students had never tried snap peas, they quickly became the students’ favorite veggie, as they picked them off the vine and ate them in the garden. And one student decided that raw broccoli was his go-to veg of all time! That’s really making a difference.

There have been cabbage parties, and pumpkin parties, watermelon parties, and work days when the parents have come and helped to construct more raised beds for the garden. I can’t imagine a more fulfilling endeavor. Growing and harvesting in my backyard garden is such a satisfying experience…growing and harvesting for a community of students, must be twice as rewarding.

As we left the school site, I was grateful for women like Andrea, Deena, and Haley – women who are using their gifts for the benefit of others, especially the little ones whose experience in the garden can be life changing for them.

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