Los Angeles Youth Plant Seeds of Sustainbility and Social Justice


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foodsystems2

By Courtney Hayden

Youth in East Los Angeles are fighting an uphill battle through poverty and violence, and it is no surprise that many students do not succeed in traditional school settings. The Los Angeles Youth Built Charter School (LA CAUSA) is dedicated to the betterment of such students and their home communities in East LA. Thanks largely to program director Tony Bautista, issues of food justice, green business, bicycle advocacy, and renewable energy are central to the school’s approach to improving lives of youth and increasing community health.

Bautista initially designed and taught sustainable programs as free summer classes. After receiving an award through the California Endowment fund, student-led sustainability blossomed into two programs: Paloma and Roots.  Paloma, meaning dove in Spanish, stands for People’s Affordable, Local, Organic Market Alternations.  This hands-on education is designed entirely around studying food availability. Students have directed their efforts towards changing fresh produce availability in corner stores.

Why corner stores? These small shops are the closest and most abundant source of food in East Los Angeles. Unfortunately, the students are unearthing a tough reality: these stores rarely carry fresh food.  The only vegetables that are available are canned, and are priced much higher than in traditional grocery stores. So do residents drive to the next neighborhood for fresh vegetables? In reality, many living in East Los Angeles do not have access to a car and do not have the time to bus long distances.

PALOMA does more than identify the problem; students are taking an active role in creating solutions. Edith’s Market, at South Ford and Fifth, received a free storage unit for fresh veggies from LA CAUSA. The students even provided complimentary energy assessments in hopes that the store would adopt more earth-friendly practices.  Currently, students are working with business owners to bring a constant flow of fresh veggies into the store. Through PALOMA, youth are taking back control of the health and sustainability of their communities.

In addition to PALOMA, Tony Bautista has introduced a group called Roots. In this program, students plant and care for gardens at local elementary schools. Every garden is a source of fresh food for the children attending the school! Gardening is done with a focus on reducing water consumption. In the coming weeks, students will begin installing drip systems.  This program gives LA CAUSA students a chance to become educators and teach children about the importance of local and in-season foods.

“Our program is student-led. It’s most powerful to see what students can do when given tools,” says Bautista.

His passion and dedication to youth and sustainability is inspiring. The Charter Schools environmental program is a source of pride for Los Angeles. It is proving that sustainability and green living can improve lives everywhere.

Sierra Club Green Home knows the importance of healthy, sustainable communities and encourages local readers to get involved!

For related article, see:
Sustainability and Social Justice: Melding in 2012?
Where’s the Environmental Justice?

 

© 2012 SCGH, LLC.

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