While passing the second floor balcony of the fourth building, something unusual catches your eye. A handful of burnt orange tomatoes are sprouting out of soil-filled, burlap-covered pallets. Thoughts of “Whoa, when did that get there?” and “Why in the world would someone start a tomato colony at Milken?” flash through your mind, but after a few seconds you simply dismiss the planters for one of those odd mysteries of the world, and run ahead to catch up with your friends and make it to class on time.
Yet the next time you stroll across that same balcony, stop for a moment. Those are not just some mere weeds arbitrarily placed in rectangular wood pallets – they’re the foundations of a revolutionary garden, otherwise known as the MCHS Urban Farm Co-op.
The Yozma Greening Group has big plans for those two pallets of sun-soaked tomatoes. Next semester, there will be a corresponding elective called Food & Justice For All, developed and taught by Ms. Elizabeth Kattler, Judaic Studies teacher and Greening Group faculty advisor. As part of this unique course, students will delve into issues of food insecurity and sustainability in Los Angeles and the world at large. They will trace common food ingredients back to their origins in the soil, along the way discussing environmental, economic, and human rights issues that are intertwined in the production and processing of food. Students will explore the relationship between diet and health, as well as learn about pertinent political issues and policies that affect food cost and distribution. The class will engage in discussions about why people eat what they do and how food marketing and labeling affects our choices.
But the integration of the garden into campus life doesn’t stop there. Biology students will use the farm for hands-on laboratory investigations of plant growth cycles and seasonal changes. Jewish Studies classes will have the opportunity to explore how ancient Jewish values such as sh’chicha, leaving fallen grain for the poor, and pe’ah, leaving crops in the corners of a field for the needy, come alive within the context of a traditional garden. Jewish harvest holidays such as Sukkot take on greater relevance and meaning as well. The entirety of our yield is donated to local food banks, furthering our collective pursuit of tzedakah, justice, and Judaism-inspired social action. Additionally, the Co-op is working with the Art Department in employing talented student artists who are helping to create visually appealing media materials to engage our school and the public.
In the coming months Milken will be partnering with the McGrath Family Farm, creating a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program that will make fresh produce available for weekly pick-up on campus. Faculty and student families are encouraged to participate in this wonderful opportunity to forge a connection with dedicated local farmers and receive delicious organic produce.
The Co-op’s mission is especially important because the modern world is so divorced from our food sources that the majority of us have never actually grown anything ourselves, much less eaten what we’ve grown. With a functioning garden on campus, we are connecting ourselves with our food and the earth, as well as staying in synch with the seasonal cycles. It is important to stress that the garden is completely organic and non-genetically modified, as our society finally turns to sustainability in the wake of a visible fallout of pesticides and hormones. Furthermore, we are realizing that our current system of consuming food that has traveled half way across the globe merely to arrive on our plates is not the most efficient or ecological way to operate. With the existence of the MCHS Urban Farm Co-op, students and faculty now have the incredible opportunity to learn about integral food and social issues in a hands-on context, and in multiple mediums. Whether you are a foodie, photographer, writer, builder, scientist, or simply an enthusiastic change-maker, we have a role for you!
Sunday, December 16 (10 am – 2 pm) is the Co-op’s first building date of the year – we will be doubling our capacity for food by building two new pallets. In addition to current Milken students, we encourage parents, siblings, faculty, and friends from outside of school to join us for a fun and productive day. Community service hours will be awarded to all students who participate.
For additional information, please contact Shauna Shafai or Alison Rollman, and check out the MCHS Urban Farm on instagram and twitter!