Mount Washington Produce Collective Plants Seeds of Growth

Article from Highland Park – Mount Washington Patch

Thanks to Mount Washington Produce Collective, students develop a love of nature…and Crispy Kale Chips.

Question: How do you get kids to eat vegetables?

Answer: Serve them Crispy Kale Chips.

That’s the short answer of course.  The long answer is:

1. Enroll your child in Mount Washington Elementary School.

2.  Form a subscription produce collective in partnership with Equitable Roots: a local community organization started by Alex Dorsey that provides fresh, locally-sourced, organic produce.

3.  Use the proceeds to fund school beautification and sustainability projects as well as classroom gardens.

4.  Use the bounty from the gardens as the raw materials for classroom projects, like the making of Crispy Kale Chips.

5.  Get kids hooked on gardening–and vegetables–for life.

Natasha Stanton laughs when she recalls the enthusiastic reaction to the veggie snacks.  “Kids still come up to me and say, ‘Did you give my mom the recipe for the kale chips?’” says the mother of two students at Mount Washington Elementary School.

Stanton is not only a parent but also the dynamo with a vision and a social conscience who, with her fellow parents including Sara Fairchild and Nicole Thomas,  created the Mount Washington Produce Collective.  Stanton, who characterizes the project as a “labor of love” as well as “the most fun volunteer job”, is quick to point out that the produce collective is indeed a collective effort.”

Stanton’s tour of the school projects funded by the Mount Washington Produce Collective is peppered with acknowledgements.  At the raised bed gardens off the kindergarten yard, Stanton explains that previous efforts to plant directly in the ground failed because of the poor quality of the soil.  The TimberSIL Company donated the sturdy, glass-infused lumber for the raised bed and the formerly barren area is now filled with herbs, greens, and vegetables.

Dads and Garden Committee volunteers Matthew Lahey and Neal Taylor, each the parent of a kindergarten student, join us at the garden.  As their respective offspring point out plants and plop cherry tomatoes in a bag for retiring teacher Karen Park, Stanton explains that gardener and former teacher Krista Ebert was the liaison between the produce collective and the faculty while long-time teacher Joy Monji coordinated lesson plans utilizing the gardens with other teachers.

As Stanton explains that Master Gardener Kathleen Ferguson lent her expertise to create the gardens, Taylor crushes and inhales the scent of an herb, picks, shells and samples a bean off the vine and pronounces an aphid-infested plant ready for removal. Taylor, who always has a garden no matter where he lives, says the school gardens give children a chance to “dig in the dirt” instead of playing on the asphalt, which according to Taylor covers about 9/10 of LAUSD playgrounds because it requires less maintenance.

Taylor who has visited numerous  Southern California schools with the “Farmer in the Classroom” program  perated by SEE-LA (Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles), notes that thanks to the gardens, “city kids learn about the cycle of growth… as they plant, grow and pick the food they eat. “

As we head past the street-adjacent, mulched garden beds on our way down to the playground, Stanton points out the native shrubs planted by local Girl and Boy Scout groups.  Thanks to the Mount Washington Produce Collective, which receives $3 from every $18 produce box, a wooden fence around the shrubs has replaced the flimsy barrier of yellow, police caution tape “like the kind found at a crime scene,” according to Stanton.

Down on the playground in the upper grade vegetable gardens, lettuce plants glow like red and green jewels in the afternoon sun.  As he watches his child try out a new skateboard, Lahey explains that unlike Taylor, he has no gardening experience but “enjoys getting sweaty and dirty.”  Additionally, Lahey says his experience with the classroom gardens has enhanced his yard at home, which has a lot of fruit trees.

The novice gardener says he and his wife joke that they might not be able to live off the land but that because of the fruit trees, they can “garnish off the land.”  Lahey also appreciates that, unlike chocolate bar fundraisers, for instance, the Produce Collective is a fundraiser that is healthy and involves kids and the community. (It should be noted, by the way, that both dads mentioned that there are also ten women on the garden committee.)

Stanton reveals that potential future projects include transforming the bare hillside above the morning assembly area with mulch and shrubs and creating a “reading garden” on a patch of dirt under the trees near the bungalows. Consequently, Stanton needs at least 30 families a week signed up for the summer produce boxes, which can be ordered in 1, 2 or 4 week incrementsonline.  The Collective also needs volunteers to distribute boxes once a week on Thursday when Stanton and Thomas are on vacation.

Stanton is especially pleased that so many members of the Garden Committee are the parents of kindergarten students. Not only will the parents potentially be able to bring long-term projects to fruition, Station says the kindergarten students can “appreciate the gardens the whole time they [attend Mount Washington Elementary School].”


And of course, it also means many more Crispy Kale Chips. Just make sure Ms. Stanton gives your mom the recipe.

Ms. Stanton’s Crispy Kale Chip Recipe

Wash and dry kale thoroughly

Rip into smaller pieces

Cut out tough ribs if any

Toss with olive oil, salt and pepper (or any of your favorite tastes)

Spread out kale onto a cookie sheet

Bake on a cookie sheet at 400 degrees for 25 minutes or until the kale is crispy