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El Monte Union Hosts Open House for Student-Grown ‘Farm Lab’ Gardens

Volunteers constructing party baskets

Volunteers construct party baskets with produce grown and harvested by students, such as fruit, herbs and sugar cane at the Arroyo ‘Farm Lab’ Open House on Dec. 17.

Arroyo High School held an open house on Dec. 17 to showcase their one-acre on-campus garden, also known as the ‘Farm Lab,’ where students grow and harvest their own produce, learn about ecology and farming science and even conserve water to preserve the ecosystem.

The urban garden provides a flourishing and sustainable food source for hungry families from a variety of crops including fruits such as lemon, orange and papaya, medicinal and culinary herbs, root vegetables like carrots, radishes and sweet potatoes, lemon grass, sugar cane and more. While at the open house, guests had the opportunity to enjoy garden-grown basil lemonade, win raffle prizes and make party baskets full of harvested produce.

“I really like coming to spend time at the Farm Lab,” Arroyo High School student Derrick Gutierrez said. “Working in the gardens is a lot of fun. It’s been a great way to relax and de-stress.”

Students harvesting produce

Students choose from a number of healthy root vegetables and ingredients to take home at the Arroyo ‘Farm Lab’ Open House on Dec. 17.

The school’s Farm Lab launched in 2016 with the goal of creating an outdoor learning space where students could study ecosystems, water conservation and the community benefits of growing fresh produce. The space is geared towards sustainability, featuring large water reservoirs built from natural materials that are engineered to absorb rainfall and continuously support the thriving ecosystem.

“Students like to get their hands dirty,” Eco Urban Gardens Executive Director Marianne Zaugg said. “You learn everything in a Farm Lab - business, math, design, geometry, and environmental science. We are growing food, greening open spaces, and cultivating a sustainable environment for future generations.”

The Farm Lab was developed by Eco Urban Gardens, a nonprofit organization that receives charitable funding to promote food sustainability and conservation in urban areas. Since its establishment in 2016, the Farm Lab has provided a safe space for students to have unique outdoor educational experiences as well as ingredients for the school’s culinary program.

Additionally, the Farm Lab has donated more than 3,000 pounds of food back to EMUHSD students and families within the last year. Any El Monte Union student is welcomed to the gardens and can take home any produce they harvest to their families to cook a wholesome meal.

Farm Manager Alan Melgoza-Calderón

Eco Gardens Farm Manager Alan Melgoza-Calderón harvests a sweet potato at the Arroyo ‘Farm Lab’ Open House on Dec. 17.

“Our mission is to foster an appreciation of agriculture, food and the environment,” Eco Urban Gardens Farm Manager Alan Melgoza-Calderón said. “This Farm Lab has definitely planted the seed of inspiration and hope for our students.”

Further Farm Lab projects are underway at the other schools, where the District will continue to explore the impact of ecology education on students’ health and career development. This summer, the District anticipates the development of a larger aquaponic/hydroponic greenhouse at Arroyo High and South El Monte High to provide families with fresh produce year-round.

“El Monte Union is grateful to those who have helped the Farm Lab thrive and are working to expand it to additional sites,” Superintendent Dr. Edward Zuniga said. “Through this program, the District is providing hands-on experience for students and expanding their knowledge and skills, helping them as they pursue careers in related fields.”

 

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