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Authentic, ‘Hands On’ Experience for Students

NONPROFITS: Berry Good Supports School’s Popular Garden Program

The third time was the charm for the schoolchildren at Darnall Charter and Jessica Eves, garden/cooking educator and coordinator at the school in the Redwood Village area of San Diego.

Jessica Eves
Garden/Cooking Educator and Coordinator
Darnall Charter School

Eves runs the school’s thriving garden that draws 500 students each week. She is also a grant writer for Darnall.

After two previous misses with local grassroots nonprofit Berry Good Food, Eves’ latest request for grant funding for Darnall’s garden was accepted last year, awarded as part of the most recent round of financial assistance through nonprofit Berry Good Food’s annual school garden grant program.

Eves, who has been at the school for 20 years, and full-time garden instructor for the past year, said Darnall as a whole is grateful to be a grant recipient.

“We feel honored as this grant recognizes the impact our program has on our community,” she said. “This grant will allow us to continue our efforts to grow and strengthen our Garden Classroom program to provide hands-on authentic learning experiences. In order to sustain programs, school gardens need continuous funding to keep their gardens growing strong and healthy.”

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Berry Good Food was founded in 2015 by food activist Michelle Ciccarelli Lerach, who was inspired toward food community integration in San Diego County after a stint living on a Sonoma County goat farm. For more than seven years, Berry Good Food has specialized in programs dedicated to food security and food education.

Berry Good Food supports a local and regenerative food system in San Diego and Baja California. It seeks to empower the community by building bridges between farmers, chefs, scientists and citizens to challenge the industrial food system while advocating for access to healthy food for all.

The organization aims to tackle the barriers − educational, economic, systemic and infrastructural − standing between people in the region and local, sustainably produced food.

Access to Healthy Food

In December, the San Diego-based group awarded a total of $15,000 to Darnall and six more San Diego County schools that have or are developing hands-on gardening and culinary education creating healthy food access for their surrounding communities.

Jane Bills
Vice President
Berry Good Food

Berry Good Food Vice President Jane Bills said that in addition to a monetary award, grant applicants were given the option of requesting non-monetary services like an expert-led class on gardening techniques, a cooking class, a garden cleanup by Berry Good Food volunteers, and a photosynthesis class using the group’s signature “Seeds for the Future” bilingual workbook.

“School gardens is a program our entire Board of Directors likes to get involved with in one form or another and is a magnetic draw for deepening our connection with the community (including) chefs, parents and teachers,” Bills said. “It’s always gratifying to see how something as simple as a garden cleanup, a cooking class or new garden tools can transform a school’s edible garden, especially when the principles of food sovereignty and culinary preparation can reach beyond the classroom to students’ families and the community at large.”

Bills said that sometimes excess garden produce is shared with food-insecure neighbors and that the lessons of the importance of giving back to one’s community “is another excellent building block for garden education students.”

Other winners of Berry Good Food’s 2022 school garden grant awards were Longfellow K-8 in Linda Vista, The Classical Academy in Escondido, Juarez Elementary in Serra Mesa, Carrillo Elementary in Carlsbad, Clairemont Canyons Academy in Clairemont Mesa and Kumeyaay Elementary in Tierrasanta.

Growing a Food Movement

Each of the 23 applications were evaluated with metrics “that embody the organization’s overall mission of growing a food movement in the San Diego County bioregion,” Berry Good Food leaders said. The criteria included the school project’s capacity for growing food, community need, clear objectives, demographics, long-term goals, mission impact and community support.

Bills said she also appreciated how the community came together last summer to help replenish the organization’s garden grant funds. The awards had been on pause for three years because of the pandemic and school closures.

Between June and August last year, Berry Good Foods held a three-part summer dinner series at two spots in Encinitas and one in Bankers Hill. It brought in celebrated chefs like Herb & Wood’s Carlos Anthony, Animae’s Tara Monsod, Juniper & Ivy’s Anthony Wells, Kettner Exchange’s Brian Redzikowski, Casa de Flor’s Flor Franco and Wrench & Rodent’s Davin Waite.

The dinners had multi-course menus featuring ingredients from many local food producers like Omega Azul Seafood out of Baja California and El Faro Seafood LLC in San Diego, Santa Ysabal-headquartered Perennial Pastures Ranch’s grass-fed meat, and fresh produce from several local farms, including the Dassi Family Farm in Leucadia.

The dinner series raised $44,000 to help replenish the funds for Berry Good Food’s school garden grant program. The group has awarded more than $50,000 to 23 schools and educational organizations with garden projects that support healthy eating in San Diego and northern Baja.

For educators like Eves, the funding for schools to teach gardening basics is a necessity, and said that when the students made the connection to the giant head of cauliflower they harvested in January from a seed they planted six months ago, “their eyes were wide open.”

“It connects them to a basic understanding of food,” she said. “This isn’t something they normally get in education. When kids have the opportunity to grow their own food, it connects them in so many ways.”

Berry Good Food

FOUNDED: 2015
FOUNDER: Michelle Ciccarelli Lerach
PRESIDENT: Jessica Waite
HEADQUARTERS: San Diego
BUSINESS: Nonprofit
REVENUE: Less than $100,000
EMPLOYEES: All volunteer Board of Directors
WEBSITE: berrygoodfood.org
CONTACT: info@berrygoodfood.org
SOCIAL IMPACT:  Framed around the principles of food security and food education, the mission of Berry Good Food is to support a local and regenerative food system in San Diego and northern Baja. We empower our community by building bridges between farmers, chefs, scientists, and citizens to challenge the industrial food system while advocating for access to healthy food for all.
NOTABLE: After a three-year hiatus because of the pandemic, Berry Good Food’s “Seeds for the Future” fundraising dinner was held three times last year in San Diego and raised $44,000 to replenish its school garden grant fund.

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