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New City School Celebrates Year Of Organic Garden

Scarecrow -Courtesy New City School

By Cristina De Leon-Menjivar
Staff Writer

On the corner of 15th Street and Long Beach Boulevard, there’s a car wash, a discount store and an apartment building.

Then there’s the 1/3-acre organic farm growing a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.

“It’s an oasis in a food desert,” said Sabrina Bow, executive director of New City Public Schools, a charter school network authorized by the Long Beach Unified School District.

The farm, which Bow said was created in order to further the school’s mission of teaching its students about the environment and healthy eating, will host its inaugural farm festival from noon to 4 p.m. on Saturday, June 4, at 225 E. 15th St. The event will mark the farm’s one-year anniversary and introduce the community to the school’s farming efforts and the importance of healthy eating and living, Bow said.

At the event, there will be food, music, dancing, a drum circle, face painting and green vendors. At 1 p.m., First District Councilman Robert Garcia will give an address.

New City Public School, which opened 11 years ago, is a bilingual, dual immersion charter school that serves 500 students in grades K-12.

According to Bow, in addition to rigorous academic preparation — in order to graduate all high school students must complete their A-G requirements, making them eligible to apply to a University of California school — the curriculum also focuses on teaching students about visual arts, social justice and the environment. Creating a school farm, she said, helps to expand that mission in a tangible way.

“The first step in promoting healthy nutrition for all students is changing how they think about their food,” Bow said. “(The farm) provides an opportunity to teach about healthy eating and gives students a connection to food.”

During the farm’s first year, students from all grades had the opportunity to be a part of the farming process, including shoveling, planting and general farm maintenance like weeding. At the farm, there are a variety of fruits and vegetables growing, including oranges, lemons, limes, peaches, apples, guava, bananas and macadamia nuts.  Some of the vegetables growing are eggplants, peppers, green beans and cucumbers. The farm is completely organic and all seeds are planted directly into the soil.

Braulio Roman, 15, has been working on the farm for just more than five months, helping with the chicken coop and maintaining the crops. As an urban high school student, he said, he understands that having a school farm is very unique and sees its value.

“(The farm) helps the school and community because it gives people a place to go buy organic fruits and vegetables,” the sophomore said. “It’s also good for our health and environment because a lot of pollution is created when food is imported; it’s better to buy from a local farm.”

According to Kathleen Irvine, who leads the school’s farm efforts, a lot of the fruits and vegetables will need time before students will start to see crops growing because the farm is new. This slow process, school officials said, teaches students both responsibility and patience.

In addition to teaching them about food and health, Irvine said, farm lessons include teaching students the history of different crops.

“We’re not trying to teach them just how to grow a tomato,” Irvine said. “We’re also teaching them where it comes from — we want to integrate history, geography, math and the arts.”

Eventually, Bow said, the food grown in the school farm will be sold in the school’s community store, called “La Tiendita,” which means little store in Spanish. Some of the long-term goals for the farm are to become a food source for Long Beach restaurants and to offer the farm as a community resource for those who want to learn more about farming and healthy eating.

“Low-income, high-minority populations are most affected by illnesses such as diabetes, obesity, asthma,” Bow said. “(The farm) offers a chance for change by exposing students to how food is grown — education at its most fundamental level is exposure.”

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