Never underestimate the power of a garden. For some, a garden at home is a means to enjoy the fruit of one’s labor. But when that same garden is placed in a school, it transforms into a symbol of positive change.
Enrich LA, an environmental non-profit, serves as a catalyst for changing the way children view the world. By adding edible gardens to public schools in the Los Angeles area, Enrich LA promotes the value of nutrition and awareness of our earth to thousands of children, many of whose only exposure to food would be through boxes and packaging. It has even dispelled the widely held myth among many of the children that pizza is a vegetable!
By virtue of digging, watering and foraging, valuable life lessons are instilled in the children that will stay with them into adulthood, such as work ethic, pride, and a respect for our planet; healthier eating habits are developed by default.
Tomas O’Grady, Enrich LA’s co-founder, was inspired to create the non-profit three years ago, along with Leonardo Chalupowicz. They built an edible garden in a Middle School and witnessed firsthand the transformative effect that it had on the school and the kids.
The experience moved the two so much, that Tomas and Leonardo began brainstorming ways they could expand the project to help other schools.
Since then, they’ve built countless edible gardens in schools throughout the Los Angeles area. Their garden education curriculum also offers funding and implementation of green spaces, school fresh lunches, after-school activities, and vocational career activities. Community involvement and giving back is at the root of Enrich LA, and it’s the centerpiece of every project.
Enrich LA’s give-back ethos is derived from Tomas, who feels that he has a lot of be thankful for. Hailing from a farm in Ireland, he arrived at Kennedy airport in 1990 with $80 to his name. He and his wife began developing real estate in Hoboken, N.J., designing projects and building them himself. By the age of 30, with a lot of sacrifice and hard work, he had made his fortune.
“We are truly the cheesiest version of the American dream. The U.S. was so good to me that I wanted to give something back.”
Enrich LA has allowed him to return the favor.
“Our goal is to have young kids appreciate whole foods so that by appreciating it, they’re not drawn to french fries and hamburgers. Their taste buds become more sophistacated than that.”
Not only do palates evolve, but student morale, test scores and class involvement improve drastically.
An exciting project in the works is that with Theodore Roosevelt High School’s Academy of Environmental and Social Policy. Our founder, Eduardo Sciammarella, is lending a hand under Tomas’ direction.
While Enrich LA appreciates any and all in their community who want to pitch in on a project (you can find more information on volunteering here), Tomas really puts his volunteers to work. This isn’t the sort of volunteer gig where you show up, do a few light tasks and then call it a day. Oh no, Tomas is the epitome of a kind-hearted but rough-around-the-edges Irishman with a no-nonsense demeanor and passion to get things done. He’s serious about his projects, and he expects the same from his workers. As he put it himself “it isn’t your typical volunteer day.” You either go big, or you can volunteer elsewhere.