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Cultivating the Future with Nathalie Dierkx

By Elizabeth Hall

nathalie1Ever wonder what it’s like to work with the Garden School Foundation? GSF partners with a variety of organizations to help our edible garden classrooms thrive. We’re so grateful for foodcorps member Nathalie Dierkx for her 11 months of service with us. We’re proud of all the amazing things she’s accomplished this year as garden coordinator at 24th Street Elementary School. Nathalie’s spirit and passion are contagious, and its been such pleasure watching her teach and inspire our lil’ gardeners. This week was her last with GSF. We wish her the best of luck in her future nonprofit endeavors. Before she left, we got the chance to chat with her about her time with GSF and life in LA.

You’ve been living in LA for a few years, but you’re originally from the Bay Area. What attracted to LA? Which aspects of LA’s food culture do you find especially inspiring?

I originally came to down to Los Angeles to attend UCLA to get my degree in education and political science. I grew up and love Oakland, and I never thought I’d stay in LA after graduation, but I really fell in love. LA is truly a diverse place, providing a home for people of all different traditions and religions and paths to Los Angeles and that is what I find so enriching about LA’s food scene. There are so many wonderful options to try food from all over the world in all different iterations, and it creates such a wonderful combination of flavors, endless eating experiences, and gives all of LA’s residents an insight into other cultures and other people’s stories.

LA is often thought of as a food desert. What are some the specific challenges you face teaching garden-based education classes in this city?

There are so many challenges to teaching in a food desert. There is a shift towards using the phrase ‘food swamp’ to describe Los Angeles and other cities lack of healthful options in certain neighborhoods and that seems more accurate to me. Hunger is not the main concern at the school that I am working at, especially with some wonderful LAUSD school food programs such as Breakfast in the Classroom. It is, instead, a really serious concern about nutrition, a swamp of addictive and unhealthy options marketed often to children. I think one of the most difficult tasks is changing behavior and opening up minds to food that can be prepared affordably to be eaten at home. All of the students at 24th street are accustomed to trying new foods in the garden but providing enough information and access in order to change behaviors and provide meaningful and lasting access at home is the real challenge for garden and nutrition educators in many schools in Los Angeles.

 

You came to Garden School Foundation through foodcorps, a national nonprofit organization that works with local communities and schools to promote healthy eating habits. Can you tell our readers a little bit about the foodcorps program, and what attracted you to serving with them?

FoodCorps is an incredible organization that works to teach children what healthy food is, help them understand where it comes from, and give them the knowledge and access to eat it every day. It is a lofty and extremely important goal. The food we eat impacts everything about our lives and that choice to eat foods that make us feel happy and healthy and connected to our culture and our family should not be a privelege only afforded to a wealthy few. Everyone has the right to healthy, interesting, and delicious foods, and FoodCorps works to provide everyone the ability to exercise that right. I grew up gardening and cooking with my mother, who is a chef in the San Francisco Bay Area and have loved teaching for my entire life. Incorporating all these passions for a cause that I think really matters is an incredible honor, and I am so proud to serve with FoodCorps.

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