A few weeks ago, I hinted at a very cool new project we were embarking upon at GOOD after I visited the amazing school gardens at Carthay Circle Elementary here in LA. The Carthay garden is an educational oasis in the middle of LA—a lush, thriving outdoor classroom where raised beds are thick with salad greens and trees drip with papayas and bananas. It’s also somewhat of an anomaly. Only 100 LAUSD schools have gardens, which sounds pretty impressive until you realize that we have 900 LAUSD schools. How could GOOD help those other 800 schools get growing?
For inspiration, we looked around GOOD’s neighborhood. And we didn’t have to look far until we saw the hot, flat, forbidding exteriors of Bancroft Middle School, which, as you can see, is about an heirloom tomato’s throw from GOOD. It occurred to us that this is a place design can really help. Coming up with a modular, scalable, affordable idea for how schools can convert those conventional acres of blacktop to a garden can help teachers, parents and administrators get funding and tools to seed their garden project. So last week, we finally launched our latest project where we’re looking for folks like you to Design a School Garden with LAUSD—but the absolute best part about it is that we’re going to build the design of the winner right here in LA, at an LAUSD school in need.
But we’ve got help, lots of help. Here’s part of our team meeting at Carthay Circle, folks from the California School Garden Network, Mia Lehrer & Associates, and the great Environmental Media Network. But the most important person is that guy over to the right, Mud Baron, the LAUSD’s green policy director, who drives around LA in a truck which is filled at all times with 1000 to 4000 seedlings for schools.
When he came to GOOD one day he let us pilfer his mobile nursery (and took some amazing shots of all of us doing it). I packed four dozen teeny vegetable plants into this old coffee cup I found in the trash and took my future garden home on the bus.
I could have put my seedlings in the ground, I suppose. But I realized in order to launch this project, I needed to really dig deep into the issues around it. I needed to see for myself just how easy it would be to build our own outdoor classroom on our slab of concrete. So I reached out to my own in-house designer, Keith Scharwath, to create a raised bed.
A few days, and a little under $200 later, we had an extremely solid planter box.
Which could also double as a great coffin.
What was once concrete and heat is now a food-production center. And we did it in a weekend.
The garden has become the new center of the household. When we wake up in the morning and it’s the first place we look. We can’t stop ourselves from paying a long visit in the afternoons. At night, it’s the topic of the dinner conversation. Now I know what kids at those 800 LAUSD schools are missing. Every student should have this experience. Every adult should have this experience.
What ideas do you have for the ultimate, affordable outdoor classroom? Check out the contest, Design a School Garden with LAUSD (and We’ll Build It!), and please help us spread the word.
The school garden contest illustration is by the amazing Will Etling at GOOD.