This week saw the launch of LA Sprouts, a new program at the Milagro Allegro Community Garden in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles.
A partnership between the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California Childhood Obesity Research Center (USC-CORC) and the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Loreto Elementary School in Cypress Park, the LA Sprouts program seeks to reduce the risk of obesity and encourage healthy eating habits in children by teaching gardening, nutrition and cooking.
Nearly 32 percent of children ages two to 19 are considered overweight or obese, and one in three children born since 2000 is at risk for developing diabetes in their lifetime. Teaching children about growing, cooking and eating healthy fruits and vegetables is a constructive and creative, yet simple approach to solving the epidemic health problem of obesity. A community garden provides access to fresh and nutritious foods that are often unavailable in urban communities, and by growing food themselves, children build self-reliance, which can lead to future successes.
For 12 weeks, the LA Sprouts program aims to teach nutrition, cooking, and gardening principles to fourth and fifth graders at LAUSD’s Loreto Elementary School. The two- hour biweekly program will be taught Tuesday and Friday afternoons at the garden and will include monthly trips to the Old LA Farmer’s Market in Highland Park. USC will assess the impact of this program on a number of health outcomes in the students, including childhood obesity, blood pressure, dietary intake and other nutritional behaviors related to healthy eating, data which is notably lacking in this area and critical to evaluate the effectiveness of such garden-based programs.
This program aims to help children lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, motivate them to eat more fruits and vegetables, improve resources, teach them to prepare and eat healthier meals, and reinforce positive perceptions of cultural foods. USC-CORC plans to use this program as a template for the development of similar programs in the area.
In addition to the nutrition/cooking component of the classes led by staff from USC-CORC, gardening curriculum will be taught by master gardeners from the University of California Cooperative Extension “Common Ground” program, with assistance from Homegirl Café. Art Center College of Design in Pasadena designed and constructed a mobile kitchen island for the program. The South Central Farmers will supply fresh organic produce for the cooking classes. Whole Foods Market Arroyo will supply cooking staples, cleaning supplies, and kitchen utensils promoting more plant-based, whole food options, as part of their larger commitment to the community and healthy eating education. Funding for LA Sprouts is provided by a Community Benefit Grant from Kaiser Permanente. The Cypress Park Neighborhood Council has committed funds for Gold Line passes for students. The North Figueroa Association will provide vouchers that may be used by students at the Old LA Farmer’s Market in Highland Park.
Slow Food Los Angeles has also contributed to the program, continuing the partnership that began in 2009 when the Milagro Allegro Community Garden hosted the largest of Slow Food’s “Time for Lunch” events in Los Angeles, part of its national campaign to improve food served in schools. We are especially pleased that Emily Ventura, chairperson of our Social Action committee and the principal organizer of our local Time For Lunch campaign, has been deeply involved in the development and launch of this important community program.
For more information about the Milagro Allegro Community Garden, and for information about how to help support the Garden’s programs or specifically the LA Sprouts program, visit its website (http://hpgarden.org).