Diggin’ School

Posted Monday, November 23rd, 2009 at 8:34 pm


After watching Food Inc. and learning how big Agri-business has us by the Brussels Sprouts, my day spent volunteering with Garden School Foundation was a much needed ray of sunshine.

My husband and I pulled into the 24th Street Elementary School’s parking lot bright and early on Saturday morning not knowing what to expect.  Located right alongside the Western Ave. exit on the notoriously traffic-laden 10 freeway in the West Adams district of Los Angeles, it certainly seemed like an unlikely place for a garden.

Walking onto the grounds, however, we were soon found ourselves in a lush, green landscape.  Classrooms surrounded a charming garden courtyard beneath a giant weeping willow.  We later learned that this was the school’s initial “test garden” that was now used as an inter-curricular learning area.  Two large banners boasted “Outdoor Classroom” and “Good Eats”.


Winding our way around the buildings, we came upon GSF’s flagship garden and were truly awe-struck.  Three-quarters of an acre of verdant land, abundant with fresh herbs, vegetable and fruit trees. With the roar of I-10 in the background, this patch of green seemed miraculous. Instead of exhaust and pollution, we inhaled the scent of freshly laid hay, rosemary and honeysuckle.


Dr. Nat Zappia, an environmental historian specializing in Native California and Director of GSF, greeted us with a warm smile and happily answered our multitude of questions.  In 2003, the LAUSD was going to lay down a fresh new coat of black asphalt in order to “beautify” the grounds.  Classic.  Second grade teacher Linda Slater and principal Yongpyo Grace Yoon, approached the community to see if they couldn’t think of something more imaginative and inspiring for the children then a concrete jungle.  In short order, an enthusiastic group of parents and community members got together and GSF was born.

In 2005 GSF asked Nancy Goslee Power to draw up a plan that would fit all the needs of teachers, parents and students.  The garden is a testament to her outstanding work.  Here is just a sample of the wealth of learning experiences the garden provides:

  • Cooking Curriculum: Volunteer chefs Jennie Cook and Gino Campagna lead two weekly “Slow Food Cooking” classes where students forage, prepare and cook their own food.

  • Herb Project: Students grow herbs that they then sell to a local restaurant, Pitfire Pizza, developing skills in gardening, marketing, packaging and financial literacy.

  • Science Garden: Standardized state science curriculum is integrated into garden-based lessons.

  • Animal Habitat Workshop: Students learn the relationship between animal habitats, gardens and ecosystems.

  • Yoga Workshop: Yoga in the garden!

Not only that, GSF has also started a Wild Food garden.  1/4 of an acre of the schoolyard is now devoted to edible native plants.  Lessons about food foraging and native Californian botany will also be worked into their school curriculum.

Let me just interject here that I am a product of the LAUSD.  I have vivid memories of jumping out of my chair at recess and running as fast as my legs could carry me onto the playground – a vast, imposing landscape of black asphalt that appeared to stretch far into the horizon.  A chain link fence let us know where the playground ended and the city streets began.  There was not a tree in sight.  Like desert buttes, two handball courts jutted through the concrete in the Southwestern corner of the yard.  All other play areas – four square and hopscotch courts, a race track – were simply painted lines on the ground. The rest was left up to our imaginations.  Hopefully, we were involved enough in whatever games we concocted to ignore the heat blasting off concrete beneath us.

Prison?  Schoolyard?  Schoolyard?  Prison?  Certainly the architecture didn’t offer any answers.

So seeing this garden was truly a revelation.  Each classroom had its own raised garden bed.  Sweet, hand-painted signs proudly announced the bounty within: kale, chard, cilantro, lavender, eggplant, melon, tomato.

My husband and I were directed to the tool shed where we grabbed two shovels and some gloves.  There were many projects to choose from and we decided to plant some fruit trees that had been donated.  Howard, the head of the Native Garden project, taught us the proper methods of tree-planting, which I had never done before.

Then the digging began and, boy, was it hard work!  The soil was impacted with clay and rocks.  This was truly and an urban garden experience. I reveled in the symbolism of breaking through the land that had once been covered with concrete to plant a tree whose root system would naturally fight the clay, loosen the soil and create a rich environment for future plants and gardeners.


Before long, a shy third-grader came over to see what I was up to.  I asked his name and, barely audible, he answered Hunter.  I handed him a trowel and we set to work battling the earth.  Hunter enthusiastically started scooping dirt out of our hole and tossing it over his shoulder, muttering to himself, “I know there’s treasure down here somewhere.”  Every once in awhile he’d hold up a large piece of hard clay and exclaim “Look!  Indian Glue!”

As he worked, he became more and more animated, forgetting his initial shyness.  Actually, the fresh air, the green plants, the community working together was putting all of us in a great mood.

After using a pick-ax to get deep enough for the tree’s root system to spread, I went over to the giant compost pile created by community members and with food donated from Mozza.  I  put the tree in the hole, filled it with a mix of dirt and compost and voila!  One apricot tree planted.

I went looking for Hunter, who had wandered off,  to show him the fruits of our labor.  I found him over at the outdoor kitchen area in front of the toolshed.  Megan, from Root Down LA was teaching the kids to prepare the food from the garden.


Root Down LA trains youth in South Central LA to build demand for real food by teaching them what it is and how to make it delicious. Basically, they teach kids to eat their veggies.

Pulling from a giant wheelbarrow of freshly harvested greens, students were at work chopping up kale, chard, onions and a donated bag of fruit for lunch.


About a dozen volunteers sat down for lunch in the eating area next to the kitchen. As we at our delicious whole wheat pasta salad with fresh greens from the garden,  I was filled with a optimism for this city.

In my brief involvement with Angeleno-style food activism, I have been constantly amazed by the inspiring work so many people are doing to foster the health and well-being of our future generations.  And the food is delicious!


More pics on Flickr!



  1. Sally

    What a great way to spend the day, sweat notwithstanding. I loved reading this story!

  2. Eleanor

    This was a great post Evanne, even made me homesick.

  3. Anarchy in the Garden

    Isn’t Fall planting way more super exciting?! I think so. I’m hoping to make the next 24th St. Elementary work day.

    I have a community garden work day of my own every 2nd Saturday of the month in Long Beach!

  4. Angelina

    I LOVE your post! Thank you for sharing the volunteer perspective. I always tell people how amazing the energy and people are these workdays! Hope to see you at the next workday!

  5. megan e. hanson

    what a great story and pics to honor the work being done by GSF and all the amazing folks they draw to their project.
    rootdown LA is SO thrilled to be able to contribute to these incredible garden days. the kids who come to the kitchen to cook and eat their veggies inspire.

    thanks so much for bringing this to life on the web! who’s behind this awesome blog anyway?! please write and let me know! :)

  6. Work Day: The Volunteer Experience « Garden School Foundation

    [...] from FarmApartment recently posted her volunteer experience at our last Work Day event. She wrote from such a [...]

  7. Fern @ Life on the Balcony

    The garden at 24th St. Elementary is amazing! I visited this past summer with Adriana Martinez (www.anarchyinthegarden.com). I wish I could have seen it during the school year like you did!

  8. Linda Slater-Gilbert

    What an honor, seeing your wonderful work make 24th Street School garden so special.

    I hope to be joining you all at an upcoming work day or GSF event.

    Can’t wait to visit each of your sites (i.e., the above-mentioned posters and their organizations) soon!

    With love, Linda

  9. Fed Up With Hunger » Blog Archive » Diggin’ School

    [...] Read the rest of the article>> [...]

  10. FarmApartment » Farm Fresh Weekend Events

    [...] You can read about my experience here. [...]

Post a Comment

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>