Western Growers Charitable Foundation has announced the recipients of 44 garden grants and legislative sponsor awards through the Growing With Children school garden program.

Western Growers Charitable Foundation, the public outreach and research arm of Western Growers, announced an ambitious goal in January to raise several million dollars to plant a garden in every California and Arizona school.

The fresh produce association has organized educators, nutrition policymakers and state legislators to create awareness with families and teachers of the importance of a healthy diet and the link between nutrition and food production. WGCF has begun implementing plans to raise money, provide supplies and train volunteers for more than 7,000 schools in California and Arizona without gardens.

“I am so proud of what we are doing. Western Growers and our partners are fostering a healthier diet in children and their parents. To some people, our grants may not seem like a lot of money, but we are making it up in the difference we make in the world of a child who has never eaten fresh fruits or vegetables or have only seen lettuce chopped up on the bun of a fast-food burger,” said Joseph “Sonny” Rodriguez, president of The Growers Co. in Somerton and a Western Growers board member. Rodriguez's company is sponsoring a garden at Pueblo School in Yuma.

Coordinator of Garden and Nutrition Programs Danielle Blacet said she hopes children will make better food choices and learn about their agrarian roots.

“The best part is, our food is delicious and good for you. When given the choice, we hope these kids will reach for a strawberry instead of a candy bar,” said Blacet, who is the administrator of the program. “We grow the best medicine in the world and we are committed to sharing what we know with the children in our communities.”

School awards

Each school received at least $1,000 and an engraved dedication stone for their garden. In addition, each school received educational materials, volunteer support, drip tape irrigation system and vegetable and fruit seeds. Numerous schools are also coordinating with the Master Gardeners program.

The next round of schools will be funded in April.

WGCF has teamed up with several organizations on this two-state plan, including the California Foundation for Agriculture in the Classroom, Ag Network, California Women for Agriculture, California Department of Education, California Department of Health Services, California 5 a Day for Better Health! Campaign, Gold Country Region 5 a Day Power Play! Campaign, National Gardening Association, University of California Cooperative Extension, Phoenix Revitalization Corporation's Casa de Nueva Esperanza and Phoenix Children's Theatre.

Western Growers extends a special recognition to T-Systems International, Inc. which has donated drip tape irrigation systems to each garden planted through Growing With Children and to Harris Moran Seed Co., which has pledged to donate seeds to every school garden planted through the program.

Schools named

Western Growers Charitable Foundation has provided grants to the following Arizona schools:

Pueblo School, Yuma — Sponsored by The Growers Co.

Pusch Ridge Christian Academy, Tucson.

Arizona Desert Elementary School, San Luis — Sr. Robert Cannell.

Barry Goldwater High School, Phoenix — Rep. Ted Carpenter.

Chino Valley High School, Chino Valley — Rep. Tom O'Halleran.

Clarendon Elementary School, Phoenix — Sr. Ken Cheuvront.

Desert Star, Avondale — Rep. Bill Arnold.

Desert Valley Elementary School, Glendale — Sr. Robert Burns.

Desert Winds Elementary School, Tucson — Rep. Jennifer Burns.

Doolen Middle School, Tucson — Rep. David Bradley.

Elfrida Elementary School, Elfrida — Rep. Manuel Alvarez.

Ericson School, Tucson — Rep. Tom Prezelski.

Flora Thew Elementary School, Tempe — Rep. Meg Burton Cahill.

Liberty Traditional School, Valley — Sr. Ken Bennett.

Mesquite Elementary School, Gilbert - Rep. Marian McClure.

Morris Udall Escuela De Bellas Artes, Phoenix — Sr. Bill Brotherton.

New Vista Academy, Chandler — Rep. Robert Robson.

Page Middle School, Page — Sr. Linda Binder.

Park Elementary School, Holbrook — Speaker Jake Flake.

Pima Elementary School, Pima — Sr. Jack Brown.

Power Ranch Elementary School, Gilbert — Rep. Eddie Farnsworth.

Tanque Verde Elementary School, Tucson — Sr. Tim Bee.

In California, Growing With Children awarded these schools:

Branch School, Arroyo Grande - Sponsored by Santa Maria Seeds, Inc.

Castle Heights Elementary School, Los Angeles - Sponsored by QSI.

Christa MacAuliffe Elementary School, Bakersfield - Sponsored by D & D Carrot Harvesting.

Dingeman Elementary School, San Diego - Sponsored by Tri-Cal, Inc.

Father Keith B. Kenny Elementary School, Sacramento - Sponsored by Del Mar Farms.

Finley Elementary School, Holtville - Sponsored by Vessey and Co.

Gooden School, Sierra Madre - Sponsored by AgriGator.

Hillside Elementary School, San Leandro - Sponsored by Emerald Packaging.

Kitty Hawk School, YO Program, Mather.

Margaret Keating School, Klamath - Sponsored by Tri-Cal.

Margarita Elementary School, Alhambra - Sponsored by Frieda's.

Monterey Heights School, Lemon Grove - Sponsored by Tri-Cal.

Nightingale Elementary School, Stockton - Sponsored by M & R Co.

Oak Grove School, Sebastopol - Sponsored by Del Mar Farms.

Pleasant Grove Elementary School, Pleasant Grove - Sponsored by George Perry & Sons.

Ramona Tafoya Elementary School, Woodland - Sponsored by J. Marchini & Sons.

Rancho Mirage Elementary, Rancho Mirage - Sponsored by American Ag Credit.

San Benancio Middle School - Sponsored by D'Arrigo Bros. Co of California.

Speech and Language Development Center, Buena Park — Sponsored by Fresh Produce and Floral Council.

Tierra Vista Grammar School, Oxnard - Sponsored by White Seed Co.

Willows Community Schools, Willows - Sponsored by Triple E. Produce, Youth for Change.

Other California schools were funded earlier this year through the Growing With Children legislative garden program.