The goal of the recently launched Western Growers project is to plant a garden in every school in California and Arizona to foster a respect for agriculture and promote a nutritious diet.

WGCF chairman A.G. Kawamura said the foundation is determined to fulfill the visionary project started in 1995 by the California Department of Education. The department’s efforts, along with alarming statistics on obesity and diabetes released by children’s health agencies, have helped spur the fresh produce association’s efforts.

"By placing this valuable educational resource in each school, we’re hoping they will find an appreciation for our agrarian roots and learn about how their food is grown. The obvious benefits of eating healthier foods, like nuts, fruits and vegetables are a win for both kids and our industry," said Kawamura.

In addition to the Western Growers Charitable Foundation grant, each school will receive a garden kit complete with tools, seeds, irrigation tape and dedication stone.

The schools are:

--Los Angeles Leadership Academy, Los Angeles, Calif. – This is a new public charter school in the Koreatown, Little El Salvador and Westlake neighborhood. The garden will be located on the roof of the school building and will be maintained as a school-wide science and nutrition project.

Rebuild garden

--Mission High School, San Francisco, Calif. This high school is located in the Mission District. The school has the highest dropout rate and lowest standardized test scores in San Francisco public schools. The school had a garden until 2001, when the site was flooded. The students were asked how they wanted to improve their school, and rebuilding the garden was the No. 1 answer.

--Roosevelt Elementary School, Fresno, Calif. This school has been designated a Title One school. There is currently no garden, but there is a Master Gardener program on-site with participation by more than 30 students.

--Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Academy, Salinas, Calif. The school has a significant migrant population with almost 90 percent of the students eligible for free or reduced-price meals. The school has a salad bar and when there is a garden harvest, the food services staff plans to purchase the fruits and vegetables from the students.

--Hanshaw Middle School, Modesto, Calif. The school receives students from five feeder elementary schools in the city’s lower income neighborhoods. More than 90 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. A small garden was started last year and there is a garden club on campus. The local high school has a Future Farmers of America program and those students help the middle school students with the garden. The grant will help them complete the garden.

--Oak Grove Elementary School, Aliso Viejo, Calif. The school has a garden for the kindergarten and would like to give the other grades a chance to get their hands dirty. Also, the garden has been entirely funded by the teachers with personal funds. The PTA and local Girl Scout troop also volunteer in the garden.

--Andres Duarte Elementary School, Duarte, Calif. More than 500 students, the majority of which are Hispanic, attend this school. Duarte has been working with the city to implement the Por La Vida program, a community-based health promotion program for Latinos and received a Local Incentive Award from the Nutrition Network.

Joint award

--Fairview Elementary School/ Planz Elementary School, Bakersfield, Calif. The schools applied jointly and will be sharing the $1,500 grant. About 78 percent of the students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. For now, the fourth and fifth grade students share planter boxes for their garden clubs. The students would like to install a permanent garden area for both schools.

--Montgomery Elementary School, Davis, Calif. The school houses a Spanish Immersion program and serves the local migrant community. The school serves students who previously attended Pioneer Elementary, a school with a thriving garden. When the school was built, there was a space designated for a garden, but they have not had the funds to start it until the WGCF Growing With Children grant.

--May Grisham School, Orcutt, Calif. More than 600 students attend this school. They received garden grants from the California Department of Education, but had to tear out the garden because of a campus renovation. They wanted the grant to re-establish raised beds and buy additional materials, seeds and plants. The school already has fencing and walkways, which were constructed by a group of volunteers.

Arizona schools

--John F. Kennedy Elementary, Phoenix, Ariz. Children attend this Kindergarten through third grade level school from a low-income area in south Phoenix. The students currently participate in the 5 a Day program in Arizona and had an after school gardening club, but the funding was cut after two semesters.

--I.G. Conchos Elementary School, Phoenix, Ariz. Kindergarten through eighth grade students in south Phoenix attend this school. All students qualify for free breakfast and lunch. There was a garden about 10 years ago, which they now plan to rebuild.