As they scooped lettuce, radishes and green beans onto their plates during lunch recently, the students of Topanga Elementary School were puffed up with pride that the vegetables they were about to eat were grown in their own garden on the school grounds.
The school, tucked away in Topanga Canyon, is the first and only elementary in the Los Angeles Unified School District to get approval to offer a salad bar. And the children have taken the healthy alternative a bit further by growing their own vegetables to fill it.
Since they planted seedlings in April, the students have watched the vegetables grow within the confines of a parent-constructed, eco-friendly garden.
Their first harvest yielded bushels of vegetables for their lunch and generated enough enthusiasm for everyone.
“It’s more expensive if you buy vegetables at the market, rather than growing your own,” said fourth-grader Meika Vanos, 9. “And I think they’ll taste a little bit different. Maybe more fresh.”
Topanga school officials said the attempt to offer healthy alternatives for vegetarian students began nearly two years ago with a student petition drive.
After the school added the salad bar last year, parents concentrated their efforts on using it as a teaching tool to introduce agriculture to the kids, who are enrolled in kindergarten through fifth grade.
“The kids are much more likely to try vegetables in the salad bar if they’ve had a hand in growing them,” said Cynthia Riddle, a Topanga parent who helped lead the drive for a healthier school meal. “This gives them a whole ecological perspective on food and nutrition.”
Although only lettuce, green beans and radishes were harvested last week, the garden will ultimately yield corn, zucchini, cucumbers, tomatoes and more.
Come October, there will even be school-grown pumpkins for Halloween.