By George B. Sanchez, Staff Writer | LA Daily News
Sept 28, 2008 - NORTH HOLLYWOOD - There is a hidden garden near the intersection of the 101 and 170 freeways.
Principals, teachers and members of the public gather at the 2nd Annual Los Angeles School Garden Resource Fair in North Hollywood, Calif., Sept 27, 2008. The fair, which is free and open to the public, provides principals and teachers with free information and the resources they need to help create school gardens on their campuses. (Gene Blevins/Staff Photographer)
Motorists cannot see the pumpkin stalks, tomato vines or grape leaves. Though the hum of freeway traffic is audible in the garden, the concrete lanes are obscured behind hulking tree trunks and fern branches.
On Saturday morning, nearly 300 people made their way to Rio Vista Elementary School's hidden garden for the second annual Los Angeles School Garden Resource Fair.
Teachers, students and parents walked away with more than 80,000 seedlings for LAUSD's 526 school gardens and the knowledge to tend to the plants.
Along with training hundreds of new urban gardeners, LAUSD gardening expert Matthew "Mud" Baron asked the crowd to lobby administrators and school officials to fund LAUSD's gardens with money from Measure Q, the $7 billion school initiative on the November ballot.
For now, LAUSD's school gardens are supported mainly by state grant money, said Tonya Mandl, a teacher adviser for the district's Instructional School Garden Program.
"When the (state) funding runs out, which is in June 2009, we run out with it," Mandl said. "We're trying to keep it going and we are seeking funders."
Key to saving the program, Mandl said, is getting teachers and school staff to recognize the educational impact of gardening.
"The gardens need to be seen as an extension of the classroom," she said. "It's an outdoor learning laboratory."
Chris Flores, an 18-year-old senior at North Hollywood High School, said the applied science of gardening sparked his understanding of the science classes he took as a junior. The lessons paid off when he saw an A on his report card.
"I thought the class was pointless," he recalled. "But then I got into growing my plants and fruits.
"It helps kids out, like me. It takes time, concentration and you need to know what you're doing."
Within the garden, he points to his favorite flower, the dishplate dahlia, and calls it by name.
He couldn't do that one year ago.
"I just knew they were flowers," he said.