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Melrose Elementary Kids Get Their Hands Dirty with Woolly School Gardens and Chef Andrea Cavaliere + El Cholo Feeds Teachers Tonight

Chef Andrea Cavaliere from Cecconi's and schoolyard gardeners in training.
Chef Andrea Cavaliere from Cecconi's and schoolyard gardeners in training.
J. Ritz

There must be statistics, somewhere, detailing the amount of chain link fencing in the possession of the Los Angeles Unified School District. It seems entirely possible that the sum of the practical-yet-dreary material surrounding LAUSD sites might stretch from the Pacific to some destination on the Atlantic coast, or even circle the globe a few times.

But thankfully there are ways to use all this metal as more than just a containment device. Last Friday morning, in collaboration with modular garden company Woolly Pocket's Woolly School Garden program and First Lady Michelle Obama's Chefs Move to Schools and Let's Move! initiatives, Chef Andrea Cavaliere from Cecconi's and Woolly Pocket representatives were on hand to begin a partnership with Melrose Elementary School Math/ Science/Technology Magnet. This is the first school Cecconi's and Cavaliere have "adopted" to work on local gardening and nutrition education efforts.

Melrose Elementary Kids Get Their Hands Dirty with Woolly School Gardens and Chef Andrea Cavaliere + El Cholo Feeds Teachers Tonight
J. Ritz

Woolly Pocket founder Miguel Nelson -- who has plenty of experience shaping crazy creative environments in unexpected places -- hopes to see schools transformed into urban farms. So the fence along Detroit Avenue and a portion of the schoolyard just north of Melrose Avenue is a fine example of how to start. "The timing is right," he says, given interest and concern for food quality in general, locally grown produce, and school lunch programs. "This is the only solution out there that gives you a school garden without red tape. Anyone who wants one will get a garden." The cost might be prohibitive to many institutions, but in addition to ready-to-go, streamlined gardening kits, Woolly School Garden helps take care of some of the fundraising details, too. Since the program launched on Earth Day, approximately 100 schools in the L.A. areas have signed on, and Nelson aims to have 10,000 school gardens set up nationwide by next year.

The sight of kids engaging in urban gardening isn't as novel now as when this movement started, but just about anyone with a pulse will think it's still pretty cool and awfully cute. A group of mostly fourth graders on Friday were getting their hands dirty, feeling and smelling plants, and asking questions about different varieties of herbs and veggies growing in Woolly Pockets vertical planters and in raised beds set up on the dark asphalt. Some of the children were sketching pictures of the garden in their journals, jotting down ideas for future meals using the future harvest, and talking about how this project related to science lessons.

Cavaliere discussing an artist's rendering of the new garden, followed by an Italian pronunciation lesson.
Cavaliere discussing an artist's rendering of the new garden, followed by an Italian pronunciation lesson.
J. Ritz

"It's better than class," said Kayla, 9. Classmate Katherine was psyched about the project because "we get to create more nature." She in particular was looking forward to monitoring the eggplant's progress. Meanwhile, fellow fourth-grader Dominique hoped that the school garden could produce some onions for her family's adobo recipe.

Cavaliere plans to visit the school weekly to check on the garden's growth, teach kids about nutrition, see how the school's expanded salad and fresh food offerings are working out, and purchase herbs to bring back to his kitchen at Cecconi's. Funds raised from these sales will be reinvested in the expanding the garden. The project is about "fun, learning, and eating better," Cavaliere said. Sounds like a perfect way to bring these lessons full circle.

While on the topic of schools, food, and good deeds: El Cholo will comp dinners for all teachers and educators (with proof of school I.D.) tonight, October 25th, from 5 p.m. through closing at the original Western Avenue, Downtown, Santa Monica, La Habra, and Irvin locations. Plus there will be a raffle for teachers to win $250 worth of supplies for their school or classroom.


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