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Los Altos Elementary wants to plant Seeds of Change in Hacienda Heights

Los Altos Elementary has applied for a Seeds of Change grant to expand its gardens, add outside gates for public use and teach students about organic gardening, composting and how to eat healthy at the Hacienda Heights campus April 7, 2014.

Loquats are washed off for eating at the Los Altos Elementary campus garden April 7, 2014.

You’ve heard of home makeovers. Los Altos Elementary needs a garden makeover.

To raise the money it needs, the Hacienda Heights school asks everyone to vote for them to get a Seeds of Change grant at www.seedsofchangegrant.com.

The organic seed company based in Rancho Dominguez donates 1 percent of its net sales toward sustainable organic farming initiatives worldwide.

This year, it is awarding $190,000 to community and school gardens. Two groups will get $20,000 grants, while 15 others will get $10,000 each.

“One of our teachers is a gardener, and she heard about the program that promotes sustainable gardening,” explained Principal Rosalie Sinapi.

Los Altos built its school garden almost seven years ago. Over the years, it has had its ups and downs as garden volunteers come and go.

But a couple of years ago, the garden literally went to seed. Soon, it was choked with untended plants growing wild.

“It looked like a jungle, so my son and I got out our weed whacker to cut down the waist-high brush,” Sinapi said.

And volunteers from Sam’s Club helped rip out the tangled roots. But the damage was done. Staff and students are finding it a tough row to hoe as they try to restore their garden.

“We paid $2,000 last year to put in a new water line, but it’s taking a lot of time and money to fix our garden,” the administrator said.

That’s why the Hacienda Heights school hopes it can win one of the Seeds of Change grants. In its grant application, instructors noted they would like to use a new garden to teach kids and families about healthy eating.

Afterschool director Sonia De La Peza is already using food in her program. She loves the farm to fork approach.

“The other day, we blended spinach into smoothies and the kids loved it,” De La Peza said.

The principal said her own daughter enjoyed the spinach so much that they planted their own at home. In fact, the Sinapi home has become a test site for the school garden.

“I’m reading about sustainable gardens and I try some of the techniques in our home garden,” the principal said. She’s getting a lot of great advice from local parents, including a nutritionist, chef and food historian.

They’ve already laid out their plans for a sustainable garden. It includes a salsa section as well as a melon patch. Which sounds tasty to students at the local school.

“I’d like to grow strawberries,” admitted 5-year-old Josie Contreras.

Second-grader Manny Hinojoza agreed, adding carrots to the list. He volunteered to weed the garden, and help with the planting.

Fourth-grader Richard Salgado already tends a small strawberry patch during recess and lunchtime. The 9-year-old thinks growing healthy food would be good for the school.

In addition, Los Altos wants to teach students about sustainability. They’d show kids how to help the environment by composting and recycling.

The school already has a small garden club. But it could do so much more if it could makeover its ghastly garden.

They would even add an outside gate so community members can access the garden. Part of the problem has been keeping up the garden during summer vacation and holiday breaks.

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