Six years ago Mr. Ortiz, the principal at Grand View Boulevard Elementary School, had a vision. He wanted to plant a vegetable garden for his students. As a native Angelino and veteran of the LASUD system, Mr. Ortiz understands the unique challenges students at his school face. For many children, the garden isn’t just a classroom; its also a sanctuary. As Mr. Ortiz notes, “The garden is a place where the children can feel good about the environment. They get to see the symbiotic relationship between our well-being and the environment’s well-being.
Mr. Ortiz has seen the benefits of GSF’s garden program first-hand. “I love watching the students learn through exploration,” he says. “They’re learning to use their senses and trust their tastes.” Learning, however, isn’t the only important activity that happens in the garden at Grand View. As Mr. Ortiz points out, “The children also discover that they enjoy nature.” At Grand View the garden stays open during recess and lunch. The students can visit the garden, relax in the shade of a fig tree, or help Ms. Kathryn, the garden coordinator, tend the plants. Improving the overall quality of life for his students is important to Mr. Ortiz. “Schools have a responsibility to lead the fight against obesity,” he says. “Schools should help children lead a healthy lifestyle.”
Although LA is often said to be a “food desert,” the city has a thriving food culture. Perhaps the best aspect is the sheer diversity of options. “As a foodie you can find it all in LA,” says Mr. Ortiz. “You don’t have to limit yourself to fine dining to eat amazing food. There are so many great hole-in-the-wall places.”
Despite his busy schedule, Mr. Ortiz still finds time to visit the school garden. He especially likes watching Ms. Kathyrn teach in the garden. “The student’s enthusiasm is easy to see,” he says. “They’re making those crucial connections between nutrition, cultivation, and sustainability.”