Wednesday, July 29, 2009

A New Crop of School Gardens

By Krista Simmons
Reprint from The LA Times July 29, 2009

Even as state funding wilts, support for school gardens is growing. A freckle-faced Malloy Sparling wraps her dirt-dusted fingers around a three-pronged cultivator and looks up with a big-toothed smile. "We're making a garden," she says, plucking a weed out of the ground, then wiping her little hands on her tomato red T-shirt.

Sparling and other young volunteers, plus parents and politicians, are taking part in a community work day at Farragut Elementary School in Culver City. But they're not the only ones spending this summer working toward a greener fall semester.

Tools for getting started on school. While most schools sit like dormant ghost towns during the summer, a few are breaking up the asphalt, planting seeds that will be sprouting edible gardens come September.

It may seem counterintuitive to start new programs in this economic climate. Summer school was canceled at many campuses this year, the $1.7-million California Instructional School Garden Program grant to the Los Angeles Unified School District has expired, and the budget crisis has left countless teachers unemployed.

But this groundswell, largely sparked by parent and community interest -- and perhaps some inspiration from Michelle Obama's White House garden -- is finding support in all the right places.

Ben Ford, chef-owner of Ford's Filling Station, and Akasha Richmond, chef-owner of Akasha, both restaurants in Culver City, spearheaded the recent work day at Farragut where parents, grandparents, children, chefs and politicians worked to lay the ground for a green space for students.

There have been gardens on the Culver City campus for more than 50 years, which have gone through several cycles of productivity and abandonment, but Ford and Richmond are using their connections in the food industry to help make this plan as sustainable and financially painless as possible. They've secured soil, seed and supplies from local farms and nurseries, and food and refreshments for the volunteers from several local restaurants. In total, the two have spent only about $200 on the garden thus far.

The organizers at Farragut hope they'll soon be able to tap Alice Waters for an Edible Schoolyard (ESY) certification, which will bring not only publicity but a seasoned veteran's perspective. Waters' ESY program is known for her implementation of seed-to-table gardens within the Berkeley school district, and has recently gone national, helping schools throughout the country execute curriculum-based gardens and locally sourced school lunch programs.

In addition to her campus in New Orleans, Waters is working with the Larchmont Charter Schools in Hollywood, which have two fully functional gardens and a lunch program where meals are prepared with organic, local ingredients by an in-house chef.

Waters says there is a shift in priorities that needs to happen within federal policy to give garden programs longevity. In the 1960s, John F. Kennedy implemented the President's Council on Physical Fitness to instill values of physical fitness. She considers the current prevalence of childhood obesity and early-onset Type 2 diabetes to be signals for immediate action similar to the fitness council.

"Now we need a curriculum that's about ecology and about gastronomy so that we can make sure that children are making the right kinds of decisions for themselves, and for the planet. There's no way to address the issues of obesity unless you let children come into a relationship of food that's positive, restorative and desirable," Waters says.

Carlos Lopez, a graduate of the garden program at Crenshaw High School, thinks a garden's value extends beyond promoting good health. "This is a way of giving kids a sense of ownership, a place to stay off the street. It saved me, and it saved a whole bunch of us. It can become so much bigger than just a garden."

Lopez was part of the team that created Food From the Hood, a student-run business that sprouted from selling Crenshaw High's produce at local farmers markets and eventually expanded to create a national brand of salad dressing that was distributed at more than 2,000 locations. But since the students from Food From the Hood graduated, the garden has become overgrown and left unattended.

A teaching garden. This summer, the Garden School Foundation, led by master gardener Nat Zappia, hopes to change that. On the first garden cleanup day, dozens of community members, former students from Food From the Hood, teachers and volunteers from Starbucks showed up to re-till soil, planting the seed for the soon-to-be student gardeners returning in the fall.

Bill Vanderberg, dean of students at Crenshaw High, plans to use the garden as a vehicle for learning within the newly created Smaller Learning Communities (SLCs). He hopes the Business SLC will be able to model off the Garden School Foundation's 24th Street School garden, where the fifth-grade children have struck a deal with Pitfire Pizza Co. to trade their herbs for pizza.

But the possibilities for educational incorporation don't stop there -- science, botany, social studies, history, geography, art and nutrition have all been included in existing local programs. Zappia hopes to use his background in history to introduce garden beds that are shaped like continents, where classes of students will learn about the history and culture of other nations through food.

Mud Baron, gardening guru for LAUSD and caretaker of the North Hollywood High School farm, says that special-needs teachers often come to him for seedlings. "There's no such thing as a special ed sunflower. It's just a sunflower," he says.

His 7-acre North Hollywood High School farm serves as a nursery for the rest of LAUSD -- it hosts a small Chardonnay vineyard, a greenhouse, a plethora of dahlias, several chickens and a pig named Francine. Baron also oversees the remaining 500-some-odd gardens across the LAUSD, which are at varying levels of production. This summer, he'll be working with students from the Summer Jobs Program who will be cultivating 500 Green Zebra tomatoes for Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, chef-owners of Ciudad and Border Grill.

But even with his infectious enthusiasm, Baron's job is constantly at risk. Though California Instructional School Gardens Program grant funds are no longer available, LAUSD Superintendent Ramon Cortines has agreed to match the funds that Baron and the LAUSD School Garden Program raise, given that they reach $100,000. Donations can be made at, which will go live at the end of this week. Community support may be the only way for school garden programs to survive.

Friends of the earth. It appears that Angelenos from all walks of life are interested in lending a hand to advance the school garden movement, regardless of tough times. The Environmental Media Assn. and Yes to Carrots have partnered with LAUSD to sponsor 10 new school garden projects, one of which will be at Saturn Elementary in L.A.. Actor Jake Gyllenhaal will be their mentor, and architect Rogerio Carvalheiro, who worked on the Getty Villa and Union Station, will work pro bono on the design. Once completed this fall, they hope to add a "scratch kitchen," where children will prepare the food they grow.

Saturn's garden project was started by an enthused group of parents who call themselves the "Rings of Saturn." Through applying for grants, working with local politicians and school leaders, and fundraisers, they have put together a garden plan for Saturn that they hope will boost its public image.

"To be successful, this needs to be viewed as integral. These are skills that kids used to learn at home. Today, that's not a reality," says Melissa Patrick, who is heading the Saturn project.

"You can't expect a whole person if you don't educate the whole child," Baron says. "We don't strictly learn within four square walls."

Friday, July 24, 2009

Walking 101: 4 Simple Steps to Save Your Stride

Oftentimes, people cannot walk, jog, or run anymore due to pain and/or injuries, but with correct re-education of proper mechanics you can get out of pain and successfully run again. Proper mechanics is the piece to the puzzle that all the “How To” boilerplate fitness magazine running articles and fitness books have been missing. This is key to optimal performance, injury free running. And, you’ll also be more efficient which will have you burning the most fat and be able to experience the pure joy of walking outside.

You need to begin with proper walking/running biomechanics before you even attempt to design a routine! Essentially, we start walking then, running when we’re between 1 to 2 years old by leaning forward then, attempting to keep ourselves from falling forward primarily by pushing or using our quadriceps and calf muscles when we walk and/or run. (We don’t really change much from that as adults).

This creates the wrong walking and running mechanics as we are not using our big powerful hamstrings and gluteal muscles, or lifting our legs with our hip flexor muscles. Most people do not sufficiently engage the hamstring and gluteals when they walk or run, because they do not get into the proper position to enhance the efficacy of those muscles.

This leads to two big problems: (1) People don’t learn the correct walking and running mechanics and, (2) They assume they did learn the right biomechanics. *Think about this: People take golfing, tennis, and private training lesions, but they never think about taking running lessons--because they assume they know how! This leads to people walking, jogging, and running incorrectly then, as a result, getting hurt.

Key Points to review: (1) Proper Arm Mechanics. (2) Break in stride cadence or a pause, which occurs and interrupts every stride. (3) Drills to generate horizontal velocity strengthening the muscles around the ankle, knee, and hip joint to create proper mechanics. Proper mechanics must focus on flexion and extension. The progression is: (1) Learn the sequence of when muscles should fire, develop range of motion, (2) Strengthen those muscles that relate to how to the joint functions, and (3) Increase frequency without compromising the sequence. (Otherwise speed is retarded and the potential for injury is increased significantly. Because speed is stride length x stride frequency, always work on one or the other of those functions to achieve peak gait form).

Here are four simple steps to keep you stepping in good form optimally and injury free.

  1. Head, shoulders and chest: Keep your head up and centered between your shoulders. Focus your eyes straight ahead. Keep your shoulders back and down. Your chest should be naturally lifted, as if there were a string attached to the center that gently pulls it upwards. Always try to maintain this neutral spine optimal posture.
  2. Arms and hands: Your arms should be bent at 90 degrees. Swing them back and forth—not side-to-side—and keep them close to your body. Keep your hands loosely cupped as if you are holding a butterfly that you don’t want to escape but you don’t want to crush either.
  3. Core: Pull your belly button gently in toward your spine and tuck your pelvis forward and maintain a continuous, soft Kegel ever so slightly, so you feel tall, stable and upright, (or remember to always keep my Crunchless Abs Set Up).
  4. Hips, thighs and feet: Power your movements from your hips rather than your thighs, but keep your hips loose and natural. Take short, fast strides that still feel natural rather than awkward. Land firmly on your heels and roll smoothly to push off with your toes. Think of planting your heel and then "pushing the ground away from you" as you roll through your foot.
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Monday, July 13, 2009

RUBY: Hurdling Over Your Weight Loss Plateau

Lately, I’ve been loving watching a reality show, RUBY, on the Style Network. It’s a show about Ruby Gettinger a 500-pound blooming Steel Magnolia from Savannah weight loss journey. I’ve become her fan, and am passionately rooting for her success. The first season she managed to lose over 100 pounds. This week on episode 2 of Season 2, she’s hit a weight loss plateau at about 350 pounds. (Emotionally she’s never weighed less than 350 during her entire adult life, and she’s having back and knee pain when exercising on the treadmill.) So what’s the hitch as she is working out diligently, and eating a prescribed, healthy meal plan?

One of the most common frustrations in weight loss is when all progress halts, despite the fact that you are diligently following a smart plan. Such plateaus are predictable and explainable. Why? Because Basal metabolic rate (BMR)—the energy required to keep the heart pumping, lungs expanding, kidneys filtering and all other vital bodily functions going when the body is at rest—accounts for 60 to 70 percent of the calories you burn and depends, for the most part, on body mass. When weight-loss occurs, body mass goes down. Therefore, so does BMR.

Consider an example: You weigh 162 pounds and eat 1,900 calories a day. To lose a pound a week, you've got to cut between 500 and 600 calories per day. So you restrict yourself to 1,400 calories, and the weight comes off. But suddenly, after week six, the scale refuses to budge. This is because with the weight loss, your BMR has also declined, and where your body used to burn 1,368 calories per day, now it's using only 1,080. At this weight, there's less of you to move around, so you burn fewer calories working out and waste fewer calories as heat. All in all, your daily calorie expenditure is now pretty close to what you're taking in. You've hit a new—and probably very annoying—equilibrium. Once you've hit a weight loss plateau, how can you get past it? Here are 6 steps to help get the needle on the scale moving again in the right direction—that is downward.

If you've hit a weight loss wall get my 6 simple weight loss steps to begin moving again downwards at Make Healthy A Lifestyle at

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

July Top Trainer Workout Playlist: A Tribute to Michael Jackson

It seems an appropriate tribute dedicating this month’s Top Trainer Workout Playlist to Michael Jackson, the King of Pop. Say what you will about his controversial private life, but there is no denying that his musical talent was true genius, and will live on forever. His songs both as a young boy in the Jackson 5, and as a solo performer always inspire you to get up and dance, AND energize your to workouts too. The only problem is what songs to choose, as there have been more than a few that have motivated my feet to fly faster on the treadmill over the years? Let’s remember the memories of joy, passion, and happiness Michael’s songs have provided us during his lifetime.

1. Rock With You—Michael Jackson (3:23)
2. Don’t Stop ‘Till You Get Enough—Michael Jackson (5:51)
3. Dancing Machine—Jackson 5 (2:36)
4. Remember The Time—Michael Jackson (3:59)
5. Thriller—Michael Jackson (5:57)
6. ABC—Jackson 5 (2:59)
7. Wanna’ Be Startin’ Somethin’—Michael Jackson (6:01)
8. Shake Your Body (Down to the Ground)—Michael Jackson (3:44)
9. I Want You Back—Jackson 5 (2:58)
10. Off The Wall—Michael Jackson (3:45)

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