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[Urban renewal]

Green Gardens Grow:
San Diego’s Lovin’ It!

By Orin Louis
rebuildglobal.org

Imagine a world in which architects, designers, and educators all collaborated to promote sustainability, preservation, and higher standards of living through artistically thought-provoking projects, such as implementing gardens in schools. Whoa, slow down. Let’s start at the beginning. Flashback with me.

I quickly outgrew Happy Meals. As a kid, my favorite meal was a Number Two, Super Sized, and a nine-piece McNuggets. I begged for this every day, got it a few times each week, and always finished everything in one sitting. Vegetables? Never heard of ‘em…or, at least, if someone tried to cram any down my throat, I transformed into Damien from The Omen entering a church. Cheeseburgers have pickles, which are vegetables, right? Fries are for sure potatoes and I am pretty sure ketchup is made from tomatoes. What was your favorite meal?

Hey, I’m not here to judge. I still indulge (only on very long car rides, and even then seldom). So what if clown Ronald McDonald is the only fictional character more recognizable than Santa? What’s the problem with a diet high in fat, sugar, salt, and low in fiber, vitamins, and minerals? Oh—and don’t forget all the energy expended to deliver that greasy junk into your body, all associated with the multiplicity of other problems associated with our over-consumption…okay, okay…you already read Fast Food Nation and watched Super Size Me, you’ve stopped eating meat and vegetables, you weren’t raised in a freakin’ cave and you’ve heard this spiel ad nauseam. I’ll spare you.

But how about (chew on? sorry…) this: apparently there is a solution, and it’s simpler than you might think.

San Diego-based nonprofit, Rebuild Global, has a mission: to design an environmentally and socially responsible world community, one project at a time. Working with individual communities, Rebuild promotes sustainable growth by protecting environmental quality, improving accessibility and mobility, and strengthening our economy through the influence of design. Founder Sandra Plaza explains: “We began our work as members of the San Diego chapter of Architecture for Humanity. During that time, we gained valuable experience working in the community and completed a number of noteworthy projects. We then set out to establish connections between volunteer designers and communities by working with schools, community groups, nonprofits, and public service and non-governmental organizations that deal specifically with low income communities, homeless populations, natural disaster survivors, the disabled,
environmental and social sustainability, and failing infrastructures.” Past pro-bono projects include: Providing extensive design services for a residential addition to a home in a socio-economically challenged community in San Diego, designing housing solutions for communities in need by addressing sustainable solutions for future growth in Tijuana, and rehabilitating an existing orphanage facility in Nakuru, Kenya. Now, lucky for us, Rebuild Global focuses on San Diego’s local children, specifically those in socio-economically challenged areas.

On November 13, 2010, Washington Elementary School announced the groundbreaking of a new school garden in Little Italy. The school brought together efforts of Washington Elementary School Foundation and community members, school parents, and Rebuild Global volunteer architects and engineers. Rebuild drafted designs and planned community involvement in construction. Said Janie Wardlow, Washington Elementary principal: “Building this garden will bring together our students, parents and community members by providing a project that beautifies the school and teaches us about our food sources and our environment.”

The Washington Elementary School Vegetable Garden will teach children the importance of sustainability and preparing healthful meals, which include a variety of locally-grown fruits and vegetables. Students will learn how and why to maintain a healthy lifestyle, thus reducing their predilection to obesity, early-onset diabetes and hypertension, among other chronic diseases. They will enjoy learning first-hand how they are lessening the amount of fossil fuels burned
during food transportation and thereby dramatically reducing impact on our planet.

Rebuild’s ultimate goal is to help elementary schools all over the United States to have their own vegetable gardens, beginning right here in San Diego. Next on the list is a vacant 160’x35’ plot of City School property abutting Matthew Sherman Elementary school in the Sherman Heights neighborhood of San Diego. “The project seeks to create an outdoor learning environment holistically weaving together gardening, eating healthful foods, living sustainably, conserving energy, creating art, reclaiming water, and recycling, all in a package that is fun and understandable for children and staff alike,” says 2010 AIA National Young Architect of the Year Award Recipient and pro-bono Project Architect Kevin deFreitas. “Each subject will be enhanced by “garden-based learning,” a hands-on experience using nature as an educational tool. Water–the region’s most precious natural resource–will also be integrated into the design: rainwater will be collected into a cistern, walkways will be permeable and won’t contribute to urban runoff, and a water reclamation system that harvests gray water from the exterior hand washing sink will irrigate drought tolerant native plants.”

State-wide, schools are cutting funding for teachers and after school programs; cash is in short supply, especially in Matthew Sherman Elementary’s school district. When budgets are being cut for education, crucially important programs, such as this one, are quickly taking a backseat. Don’t let the clown win: Help fund Rebuild to implement a garden in every elementary school in San Diego. Children today inherit a variety of unfortunate and exigent health and environmental challenges. Senior editor at the Center for Ecoliteracy, Michael K. Stone, points out: “This generation will require leaders and citizens who can think ecologically, understand

the interconnectedness of human and natural systems, and have the will, ability, and courage to act.” With your necessary support and involvement in participating and becoming a partner in our School Garden Initiative, this becomes possible. Together, we can design an environmentally and socially responsible world community, one project at a time. Together we will make a difference.

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