I recently had the good fortune to meet a man named Mud. It was during a trip to Southern California to speak at the Santa Monica Good Food Festival about the importance of quality school food. Mud has a mantra that I am blatantly adopting: Kids who grow good food, eat good food. Kids who cook good food, eat good food.
If you’re a fan of Jamie Oliver’s School Food Revolution, you might recognize the name: Mud Baron. He’s the former Green Policy Director for the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). Like his name implies, Mud is the epitome of garden passion. A flower farmer by trade, he can usually be found with pruners strapped to his hip and a seed plug tray under his arm. Mud knows both teachers and kids by name. After meeting Mud and a couple of the teachers who are incorporating their school gardens into their schools’ culinary programs, I was invited to take a closer look at the work they were doing. Remarkably, LAUSD has more than 500 schools with gardens and it is possible for a student to go from kindergarten to graduation with access to a school garden at every campus.
I was lucky enough to spend half of a Saturday with Mud — now a volunteer for the district — at The Christensen Math, Science & Technology Center. The name is a little deceiving. This four-acre plot, located in San Pedro amidst a neighborhood and the harbor, is a teaching center for the district. It hosts more than 50,000 students on field trips each year. On a typical visit, students split into groups. While one group learns about the important role that animals play in agriculture, the other group tours, and even works, in the gardens.
The center is home to a couple of dozen chickens, a handful of ducks, a big turkey, Ophelia the 400 lb pig and Peaches the pony — most rescued from city life after their owners determined they were unable to care for them. In the gardens, students learn the difference between the rows that are planted for human consumption — herbs, vegetables and fruit trees — and rows planted as food for pollinators. Mud has a soft spot for dahlias. He says the flowers serve two purposes. One, they feed the bees, dragonflies and hummingbirds that are vital to the garden’s success and, two, they open doors...when garden supporters take beautiful bouquets to council members, teachers and community advocates.
Beyond inspiring students with visits to the model gardens, the center also supplies schools with seeds and starter plants for their own gardens. Mud is unapologetic that his support and that of the center reach beyond LAUSD. The center is known for providing seeds and starters to other surrounding school districts and even community gardens. “What sucked me into this work was when I realized that the first teacher I helped wasn’t alone,” Mud revealed to me on my visit. “There were so many more teachers that needed encouragement, tools and a little expertise to be successful with their gardens.” It’s this spirit of collaboration and dedication to helping children understand where their food comes from, that energizes Whole Kids Foundation’s support for school gardens. Remember:Kids who grow good food, eat good food. Kids who cook good food, eat good food.
If you want to keep up with Mud, you can follow him on twitter @cocoxochitl. You can get more information on how to help school gardens grow and how to grow a garden for your school on the Whole Kids Foundation® website. And follow Whole Kids Foundation on Twitter and Facebook. Did you garden when you were a kid? Tell me about your experience.