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Garden Gateway project produces nutrition for communities

As part of the the Garden Gateway Nutrition Program, residents of South Los Angeles prepare edible gardens at a local community garden. (Photo/Zhiyi Feng)

Strides have been made to remove the moniker “food desert” from South Los Angeles. Farmers markets have sprouted. Bans against more fast-food restaurants have been implemented.

But Garden Gateway Nutrition Project (GGNP) goes a step further. The nonprofit is providing residents with the tools and knowledge they need to grow their own fruits and vegetables. Run by the Community Services Unlimited (CSU), the group teaches residents how to create their own edible gardens.

As part of her volunteer work with GGNP, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences senior Mindy Guilford and undergraduate Adam Joe of the USC School of Cinematic Arts produced a video showing how community members are attempting to turn their food desert into a food oasis.

“Residents told us how the Garden Gateway project had impacted their outlook and accessibility to fresh organic produce,” Guilford said. “They said the project gave them the knowledge, skills and tools to grow fresh produce at home.”

GGNP is one of the many programs supported by the USC Good Neighbors Campaign (GNC), which funds university-community partnerships. The yearly fundraiser adheres to USC’s promise to make a visible, positive impact on neighborhoods surrounding USC.

Since 1994, USC faculty and staff have donated more than $16 million to the effort, which takes place at the University Park and Health Sciences campuses. The GNC campaign runs through Oct. 31, but donations can be made at any time during the year. Alumni, students and the general public may also participate.

Contributions are distributed to USC Neighborhood Outreach (UNO) grants and United Way. Since GNC’s inception, nearly 500 grants have been given to community organizations to enhance educational opportunities, promote good health and fitness, support economic development and USC hiring, and improve safety. This year’s campaign goal is $1.7 million.

Fifty projects were awarded grants from GNC for the 2013-14 academic year. Among them are many that feature collaborations with USC Dornsife faculty, students and entities such as ArcSmart, a partnership between USC Dornsife’s USC Archaeology Research Center and the Los Angeles Unified School District Art and Artifact Collection. Through ArcSmart, USC students teach local elementary school children about ancient civilizations using ancient artifacts from Greece, Rome, Egypt and Mesopotamia.

Also supported by GNC is the Mentoring Generations/Young Docents Program, coordinated by Francille Rusan Wilson, associate professor of American studies and ethnicity, and history. In this program, USC students mentor local high school students who participate in an internship program at the California African American Museum, where they learn about museums and possible careers.

ReadersPLUS also receives funds from GNC. The literacy and math tutoring program is administered by the Joint Educational Project (JEP). Housed at USC Dornsife, JEP is among the oldest and largest service-learning programs in the United States. Through ReadersPLUS, USC students tutor kindergarten through fifth-grade students in seven of the USC Family of Schools.

“The ReadersPLUS program is extremely important for our neighborhood schools,” said Tina Koneazny, associate director of administration and educational outreach at JEP.

“Every classroom has a number of students in danger of ‘slipping through the cracks’ as they struggle with reading or math while teachers try to meet the individual needs of their 20 to 30 students. Our reading and math tutors provide children the help they need to reach their academic potential.”

In addition to making a positive impact in the community, GNC gives USC students the opportunity to work with their neighbors.

Vicki Ju, a public relations major at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, is a ReadersPLUS tutor at Weemes Elementary School, a few blocks west of the University Park Campus.

The best part of being a tutor is that you can personally see your children grow as a student and begin to gain confidence in themselves, Ju said.

“At the beginning of the semester, almost all of my students said they did not like math because they were bad at it,” she said. “But as the semester went by, they slowly became more sure of themselves. It’s the most rewarding thing in the world to watch your students understand a new concept.

“Every time that happens, it always brightens my day.”

Guilford, too, sees the positive impacts of GNC. The English and creative writing major is elated each time a family is able to grow their own lettuce, carrots and tomatoes. Their small gardens in the middle of a busy city are beautiful examples of how individually and collectively, a community can produce what it needs to provide for one another, she said.

“Meeting the immediate needs of the community and empowering future generations creates a powerful resource for the residents of South LA,” Guilford said. “CSU and the Garden Gateway program have become models for how other communities faced with these food issues can take the health of their communities into their own hands.”

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Garden Gateway project produces nutrition for communities

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