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John Garza, 2010 Garden Crusader

John Garza John Garza

Scenes from Bell Gardens, located just southeast of Los Angeles.

Middle school students in a Los Angeles suburb are bringing a new product to market with an ultra local label: school-grown food.

At their school farm market, members of the Bell Gardens Intermediate School Environmental Garden Club sell fruits, vegetables, fresh and dried herbs, even fruit preserves, baked goods and crafts made from dried flowers. All of these products are grown in their school garden.

Teacher John Garza started the garden club 17 years ago as a way to help his students learn about gardening, science, health and nutrition. After retiring from teaching last year, John has turned his full attention to establishing the farmer's market as well as a new garden at the high school.

To honor John Garza for his innovative school farmer's market, Gardener's Supply has named him a 2010 Garden Crusader Award winner.

In the words of Kat Soltanmorad, who nominated John for the award, "Mr. Garza continues to inspire students to maintain, love and truly embrace what their garden offers to them and their community. Health, nutrition education, and overall pride in their work and community is reflected when you speak to students who participate in the garden program."

Growing the Garden

Bell Gardens is located just southeast of Los Angeles. Though the area was once a thriving farming community with some of the best agricultural land in the country, by the 1930s Bell Gardens had been gobbled up by Los Angeles sprawl. Today more than 45,000 residents live within its 2.4 square miles.

When John Garza established the school garden in 1993, he knew it would be much more than an outdoor classroom. "I am able to provide a place for these kids to go after school that is safe and positive. They learn what hard work and helping each other is all about," John told the California Garden Network.

In addition to maintaining an extensive garden at the middle school, students in the Environmental Garden Club also go on field trips to learn about green technology and life in the old west. Club members attend nutrition classes and learn business skills by running the farmer's market.

The last Saturday of every month, students organize and host the farmer's market. Community members buy produce, prepared foods and crafts, listen to live music and see cooking demonstrations.

More than 93 percent of the residents of Bell Gardens are Hispanic, and students are growing crops that are of particular interest to their neighbors, such as tomatillos, chayote, corn, pumpkin flowers and chiles. At the farmer's market, students have also organized programs to encourage healthy choices in cooking traditional foods, such as a contest for the best "healthy tamale".

Thanks to John Garza, Bell Gardens has reinvented its agricultural heritage.

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