UEPI, FEAST host seed donation event for local school gardens

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FEAST, a club focused on food, energy, and sustainability, tends an organic garden located at Occidental College. Friday, March 22, 2019. Bella Fabiani/The Occidental

Occidental’s Food, Energy and Sustainability Team (FEAST) hosted the Urban & Environmental Policy Institute’s (UEPI) event “2019 Northeast LA Plug Mob” in the FEAST garden Feb. 23. The event’s purpose was to donate seedlings of edible plants to Northeast LA schools’ community gardens. This was made possible by donations from Altman PlantsBaker Creek Seeds and Master Gardener Seed Library and coordinated by Mud Baron, a farmer, teacher and social media influencer.

Baron explained that plugs are vegetable seedlings that are sold in large amounts in what are called “plug trays.” The name “Plug Mob” is a combination of “plug” and “flash mob,” as the creators of the event were anticipating a mob of excited community gardeners attending the event.

According to Rosa Romero, the farm to preschool program director at UEPI, the event was crowded with school representatives and seedlings of primarily edible plants.

“I was looking at the spreadsheet: we had about 125 schools represented and about 40 community gardens,” Romero said.” They came and got the seedlings, which was really cool. And so the idea is, you come and there’s a variety of everything.”

Baron has been instrumental in events like these since he began working with school garden programs over ten years ago. He explained how he was able to acquire the plugs from Altman Plants.

“I found people that grew plugs and built a relationship and told them what I wanted to do. The company sells about a billion plants a year at about 10 cents a piece, so you can get an idea of what size company they are,” Baron said. “They’re giving me their extras and I’m sharing those with really amazing teachers not just from Eagle Rock.”

FEAST, a club focused on food, energy, and sustainability, oversees a greenhouse where seeds are germinated. Recently, FEAST donated thousands of seeds to local community gardens in Los Angeles. Friday, March 22, 2019. Bella Fabiani/The Occidental

The seedlings were given away first to school garden coordinators and then to the general community.

Romero said that UEPI invited all of the Los Angeles United School District (LAUSD) District 5 candidates who are running in the special election to fill the empty seat of Ref Rodriguez. The only candidate to make it to the event was Jackie Goldberg.

“I think that said a lot to the teachers that were here, it was really great for them to see the support. And she was … talking about how all schools need to have ag [agriculture] teachers, and they all need to have fresher fruits and vegetables and access to having a school garden,” Romero said. “And so it was really great to hear that from someone who’s actually going to be writing to represent this area.”

Romero said that the need for community gardens is especially high in Los Angeles.

“I think that in Los Angeles, there’s so much concrete and disconnect from nature that if you can have some kind of way to bring nature back into schools, into the classroom, then we might have more reflective, environmentally-inclined students that are being brought up,” Romero said.

Megan Bomba, the initiative coordinator for UEPI’s partnership with Choose Health LA Kids, further emphasized the importance of agricultural education and spoke to what this event meant to her with respect to engagement in community-based agriculture.

“So they [school children] can go outside and play, but they don’t get to touch plants or taste plants or just kind of explore and try things because people have forgotten how to garden, and they’re just afraid of things happening,” Bomba said. “So I think events like this are really important because by giving away plants, you’re kind of making it more accessible for people.”

Romero said he could tell how outreach events have impacted the community. According to Romero, after a conference on plant-based food and climate change, LAUSD has introduced a pilot program of vegan lunches.

The UEPI hopes to hold more events like this in the future, according to Bomba.

“I think that kind of collaboration between a student group and UEPI and the community is exactly the kind of thing we want to be doing more of and that we hope Occidental will do more of in the future,” Bomba said.