Long before local grocer Vons donated an abandoned, post-riot storefront as a safe space for his community gatherings, Lou Dantzler, the beloved visionary founder of the Boys & Girls Club of Metro Los Angeles’s (BGCMLA) Challengers Clubhouse, met weekly with groups of children under a maple tree in South Los Angeles that offered respite from the sun and noise of the city as well as an opportunity to commune with nature. It was part of his mission to provide exposure, mentorship and support to young people in the Metro LA area.
It is fitting that the latest development of BGCMLA’s Watts-Willowbrook Clubhouse, a sister site to the Challengers’ Clubhouse in Watts, on the Compton border, is a multi-week program teaching participating children the science behind their plant-based foods favourites, the connection between personal well-being and food advocacy, and the cultural significance of gardens and growing in their own neighborhood and beyond.
This program was developed in coordination with Support+Feed and Wild Elements. The 12-month pilot started last month and everyone involved hopes the program will continue on a permanent basis.
“One of the most important aspects of youth development is food education and positive nutrition,” said Kimberly Washington, vice president of resource development for BGCMLA.
“To support healthy lifestyles for our children, we’ve partnered with @wildelements and @supportandfeed to teach hydroponics to the next generation.”
Founder and CEO of Wild Elements, Nikki Esmaji, explained, “Hydroponics is one of the best sustainable farming methods because it connects agriculture, technology and innovation to grow nutrient-dense products that don’t anywhere and anytime. At Wild Elements, we believe that sustainable agriculture is essential to protecting the future of our planet, as well as the health of our communities. Agriculture is responsible for 75% of global deforestation and more than 70% of our global freshwater supply is used for agriculture.
This method is said to use up to 10 times less water than conventional farming, which is especially important in water-scarce regions like California.
At the Hydro-Wild Lab, club members will benefit from a hands-on exploration of farm-to-table and environmentalism through community gardening, cooking classes and past nature excursions, reminiscent of early meetings of Dantzler in the 70s and 80s.
Washington noted, “This unique program developed in partnership between the three organizations is specifically designed for students and the Watts-Willowbrook Clubhouse community to address the connection between food insecurity and the history of food systems, healthy eating and climate change.
Maggie Baird, founder of Support & Feed and incidentally the mother of Billie Eilish, added: “The food we bring to the program is nutritious, delicious and completely plant-based. We also bring vegetables and fruits for children to taste, sometimes for the very first time.
This presents another element of exploration for children.
The hour-long weekly program is open to all club members at the Watts/Willowbrook Clubhouse, giving youngsters time to sow, observe and learn about plants before and during harvest.
“Our Watts community has long been challenged by the lack of success,” said Patrick Mahoney, President and CEO, Boys & Girls Clubs Metro Los Angeles. “The Hydro-Wild Lab will provide the youth of BGCMLA with the opportunity to grow and consume healthy foods, but will also serve as an essential tool for community and family dialogue on creating healthier eating habits. In a community where diabetes has a 72% higher mortality rate than the average community, the Hydro-Wild lab will be a great education and awareness tool that can help save lives. »
Wild Elements, Support + Feed, and Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Los Angeles plan to expand and use Hydro-Wild Lab as a model to bring innovative solutions to other communities nationwide.
“This educational and collaborative initiative unites the strengths and networks of the three organizations and further expands critical conversations about access to nutrient-dense foods in urban communities,” Eslami said. “Through this program, we aim to educate and inspire students to become the next generation of sustainable farmers, food scientists and climate activists.”
A gala celebrating the donors, partners, volunteers and youth who have made this and other programs possible for BGCMLA will be held Friday, August 26 at 6:00 p.m. at the City Club of Los Angeles. There will be silent and live auctions, dinner and cocktails, partner spotlights and musical performances by Club members.
Washington, who noted the familiar challenges of nonprofits with funding and ongoing support for staff and volunteers, said: “The pandemic has taken a toll not only on our young people and our community, but on those who want to embrace our mission and ensure impactful work continues for young people in Los Angeles. We celebrate…… Homecoming 2022!
Although Dantzler, a South Carolina transplant in South Central LA, died in the summer of 2006, his legacy of innovation and providing young people with a place to grow and learn in a safe environment lives on. Young people who pass through BGCMLA are equipped with tools to break the cycle of hatred and bigotry and overcome the challenges ahead, including climate change. This abandoned storefront is now a $6 million facility that has served thousands of boys and girls to date, but thanks to the Hydro-Wild Lab, the organic wealth symbolized by this maple tree is not forgotten.
Visit www.bgcmla.orgor email [email protected] for more information.