A student-powered revolution to enlighten and improve the health of an entire community will soon come to an end due to lack of funding, according to Bell Gardens school-site garden advisors.
In 2008, The Campaign for a Healthier Bell Gardens (CHBG) received a Community Clinic Initiative grant from the Tides Foundation and the California Endowment.
Funding ends in June and the nonprofit has been unable to secure another grant, according to Lani Cupchoy, project manager of the health initiative to reduce diabetes and teen pregnancy in the city.
Lea esta nota en Español: Mercado de Agricultores Estudiantil de Bell Gardens Pierde Financiación 
On Saturday, Bell Gardens Intermediate School will hold the last of its monthly farmers markets.
The city of Bell Gardens received some negative publicity last year when the LA Times singled published a story comparing the city’s obesity rate to that of upscale Manhattan Beach. A low-income, predominantly Latino and immigrant community, Bell Gardens has the county’s highest childhood obesity rate at 36 percent, the article stated.
While the story should have served as a stronger indicator as to why programs like theirs should continue to receive funding, it might have had just the opposite effect, according to Cupchoy, because their program does not currently track changes to students’ body mass index, a measure used to determine if a child is overweight or obese.
“Here’s my argument: this is part of preventive health,” she said. “What the clinic is doing is so special… they are visionary, they are looking beyond the four traditional walls of medical practice, they are out there [in the community],” she said.
Cupchoy says 180 students across the Montebello Unified School District (MUSD) are receiving nutritional education through the program and over 5,000 people have attended the monthly farmers markets during the last five years. The program also has over 80 community partners and about 400 people at the farmers marker each month,
In April, Bell Gardens school-site gardens were filmed for a documentary narrated by Cupchoy, which is scheduled to air sometime this summer. Cupchoy said the documentary is bitter sweet because it is the culmination of the school-site gardening program which lost its funding to keep going.
The campaign also recently published a cookbook filled with healthy recipes from students in the program.
“There are a lot of unhealthy food outlets in the 2.5-mile city, residents don’t have a lot of options. There is no Wholefoods or Trader Joe’s, but they can go to a school-site farmers market to get healthy, low-cost food. Twenty-dollars can go far…” Cupchoy said.
In the last four years, The Campaign for a Healthier Bell Gardens has sponsored monthly or quarterly farmers markets at local schools where students share their harvest and enthusiasm for healthy living with the community. They also quadrupled the number of school-site gardens in the MUSD.
Twelve-year-old Jenny Jauregui joined the Bell Gardens Intermediate (BGI) Environmental Garden Club at the beginning of this school year. Last fall, the hesitant, sweet-sounding seventh-grader got more involved in the operation of her school’s farmers markets. “I didn’t know anything about gardening, they gave me knowledge, [showed me] how to be responsible… and they taught me to not be shy,” she said on Monday.
Jauregui says she’s been exposed to a variety of fruits and vegetables and is now stepping out of her comfort zone to push her fellow students, parents and community members to try them.
“My friends are eating healthier, before [joining the club] they used to eat more junk food, like chips, now I rarely see them eating junk food,” she said. “At lunch, instead of getting cookies and treats, they don’t grab them. They get a cup of fruit, or cut carrots and broccoli instead.”
Jauregui’s mother, whose first name is also Jenny, says her daughter has been learning how enjoy a healthier lifestyle, in addition to overcoming her shyness.
“She’s happy, she’s eating healthier, she’s participating in the kitchen, she likes to cook and is trying all the vegetables they give her,” the mother said.
Mother and daughter are sad to see the monthly farmers markets come to such an abrupt end.
But without funding, the once monthly farmers markets could be reduced to just once a year, and other school-site gardening programs could be cut.
The goal to make Bell Gardens the first city with gardens at each of its public schools is also at risk. Three of the city’s seven public schools —Cesar Chavez Elementary, Suva Elementary and Suva Intermediate School— do not have a school-site garden, Cupchoy said.
Garfield Elementary, Bell Gardens Elementary, Bell Gardens Intermediate and Bell Gardens High School currently have gardens and either an Environmental Gardening Club or a class on the topic.
Each school has it’s own weekly mini farmers market, and they join BGI’s quarterly farmers market which is open to the public, according to Cupchoy.
Wilcox Elementary in Montebello, also an MUSD school, also benefited from the 2008 grant. In addition, BGI’s Environmntal Gardening Club also helped open gardens in the Lynwood Unified School District and provided consultation on a garden project in the Los Angeles Unified School District, Cupchoy said.
John Garza and Eva Cupchoy (Lani’s mother), both retired BGI teachers, founded the Environmental Gardening Club 20 years ago. They are still constant figures at the student run farmers markets.
Besides Downey, Bell Gardens is the only southeast city that has a farmers market, Eva Cupchoy notes.
“We have to contribute [to the fight against] this monster that is diabetes and obesity. The kids are doing something in Bell Gardens to contribute to that… Those are kids teaching adults in the community and educating parents about growing vegetables and selling it to community,” she said.
But without funding, their hands are tied, she said. “No matter how much ganas (motivation) we have, without money we can do nothing,” she said.
Garza says he hopes each school will continue their gardening programs when the funding runs out, but he knows the community-wide emphasis is compromised without grant funding.
Donations are being accepted to keep help the farmers markets going, and can be mailed to The Campaign for a Healthier Bell Gardens’ parent organization: Family Heath Care Centers of Greater Los Angeles Inc., 6501 S. Garfield Ave, Bell Gardens, CA 90201. For more information call (562) 776-5001.