CAP OC, Westminster High celebrate Earth Day with fresh produce donated to OC Food Bank

CAP OC celebrated its partnership with Westminster High on Earth Day.
CAP OC celebrated its partnership with Westminster High on Earth Day by harvesting its 1 millionth pound of fresh produce.
(Sarah Mosqueda)

Westminster High School students and volunteers gathered to pick strawberries at the school’s Giving Farm under a gray sky. In contrast to the gloomy day, the strawberries growing on the urban farm off Goldenwest Street were bright ruby red and sweet too. The harvest, taking place on Earth Day, was a celebration of the partnership between Community Action Partnership of Orange County and Westminster High School as they prepared the Giving Farm’s 1 millionth pound of fresh produce for donation to the OC Food Bank.

“We want to say ‘thanks a million,’” said director of the OC Food Bank, Mark Lowry, who was on campus for the occasion.

The OC Food Bank, a program of Community Action Partnership of Orange County, is located just 3 miles from the Giving Farm and dedicated to ending hunger and malnutrition through partnerships with local charities, soup kitchens and programs like Westminster High School’s Future Farmers of America program. The farm-to-food bank partnership with the Giving Farm has delivered over 200,000 pounds of produce annually since the two organizations began working together about six years ago.


The 8-acre urban farm had suffered from diminished resources and was down to one teacher when Lowry and his CAP OC team noticed the open land near their food bank facility. They reached out to district officials to inquire about a partnership and learned the district was considering a proposal to pave over the land for RV storage. Instead, CAP OC stepped in to revive the school’s agriculture program and provide a connection to local food networks, while also gaining a resource to help serve Orange County’s food insecure communities.

“It is rare to find a jewel like this in the middle of a city in Orange County today,” said Lowry. “We were able to protect this resource in the middle of an urban environment.”

The Giving Farm is the largest remaining public-school farm in Orange County, with fields of crops, as well as livestock, aquaponics/hydroponics systems, a greenhouse, shade house, orchard, vertical tower irrigation system and nature center.

The produce area of the farm sits on 3½ acres and uses hydroponics grown on raised beds and aquaponics, a type of fish farming that uses the waste produced by fish to supply nutrients to hydroponic plants.

Freshly harvested strawberries at Westminster High School's Giving Farm.
Freshly harvested strawberries at Westminster High School’s Giving Farm.
(Sarah Mosqueda)

Students and volunteers searched the fields for ripe strawberries, bulbous and red, without sun damage or bugs. They loaded their bounty into small carts designed to be wheeled through the narrow rows of crops while another group sorted the berries into green baskets.

Some of the students who participate in the education project at the Giving Farm are part of the Future Farmers of America program at Westminster High School. FFA is a youth organization designed to prepare students for careers in the science, business and technology of agriculture.

“When this partnership was formed and we were able to to invest in getting crops back in the ground again, it sparked interest in the student body and in the community,” said Lowry. “Enrollment in the program doubled, additional teachers were hired so more students are exposed to it not only in the agriculture and FFA program, but Westminster High School principal, Amy Sabol, has been very intentional about making sure that people understand this an interdisciplinary study. It is not just about agriculture, but biology, chemistry and the arts.”

Westminster High School students and volunteers harvest strawberries at the Giving Farm on Earth Day.
(Sarah Mosqueda )

Westminster High junior Luca Hunter has been involved in Future Farmers of America for three years and said he has enjoyed the experiences he has gained through the program.

“Within this program you can raise animals, and I am raising a pig and a lamb,” said Hunter.

Hunter said he had no experience with farm animals before working with FFA but is grateful for the exposure since he plans to pursue a career as a veterinary physician.

“I plan to major in animal science and become a veterinarian, so I feel like this program will help put me on that track,” said Hunter.

As the clouds gave way to a light mist, students finished up their strawberry harvest and came in from the field.

Lowry remakred he is grateful the partnership has turned out to be fruitful for both the OC Food Bank and Westminster High School.

“For us, this checks off all the boxes — especially on Earth Day,” said Lowry.