BEST Friends and its volunteers bring a garden to Grape Street!

When students at Grape Street Elementary in Watts return to school on Monday, they will be surprised to see that part of their outdoor space has been transformed into an edible garden and outdoor learning center.  On Friday, March 7th, 2014, from 3:00 TO 5:30 pm, thirty-five members of BEST Friends, the young professionals board of LA's BEST, will stain and drill wood to build picnic tables, park benches and garden boxes, add soil, dig holes, and plant over 70 native and edible plants at Grape Street Elementary. 

The BEST Friends Board is a group of young, diverse professionals that support LA's BEST through volunteering, fundraising, public outreach and community building. The ground-breaking philanthropic group is celebrating it's 10th anniversary this year. In 2013, the BEST Friends Board raised $400,000 for LA's BEST, and has decided this year to designate $10,000 to a project that  that otherwise woudn't happen without its funding and that has a volunteer component. They decided on a garden installation at Grape Street, and BEST Friends Board member Nathalie Huddleston personally underwrote the costs of the installation.

"I was moved to fund this Garden because I saw the benefits of a similar garden at my son's school," said Huddleston, who's recently joined the BEST Friends Board. "I wanted the children of Grape Street to have the same benefits."

Through its BEST Fit program,  LA's BEST has successfully installed gardens at 14 LA's BEST elementary schools--Burbank, Dorris, Euclid, Fair, Farmdale, First Street, Gates, Hooper, Loreto, Los Feliz, Murchison, Politi, Toland Way and Selma elementary schools.  Using native Californian plants, the gardens have lower maintenance and water requirements.

LA’s BEST staff and students at Grape Street and BEST Fit Traveling staff will maintain the garden throughout the school year and use it to teach students the importance of good health and nutrition. Students will eventually be able to make healthy snacks such as those seen in the LA’s BEST cookbook, using the foods in the garden. The gardens will also serve as outdoor learning centers, providing tranquil spaces for reading and discovery.

LA's BEST partnered with The Theodore Payne Foundation (TPF), a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the use and understanding of California's flora, to create the gardens. TPF will supply the expertise, bringing the native and edible plants that will be placed in the garden, and advising LA’s BEST staff and students on how to maintain it.  

These gardens are a vivid example of the value of expanded learning, an approach to education that LA's BEST advocates. Instead of learning by rote drilling and standardized tests,  LA's BEST students learn about math, science, biology, geology and nutrition in an engaging, hands-on envrionment by building and maintaining these gardens. 

LA's BEST lead a national coalition of expanded learning programs that provide active, purposeful learning experiences for children outside of the traditional school day and addresses the academic, social, emotional, and physical needs and interests of students.