GrowingGreat founders, from left, Lori Sherman, Peggy Curry and Marika Bergsund. All photos courtesy of Peggy Curry
On Saturday, July 12, Manhattan Beach-based GrowingGreat, a nutrition education nonprofit, will host a Farm-to-Table Benefit at a private estate in Manhattan Beach to celebrate its 15 years as an advocate and teacher for healthy eating, beginning with elementary school kids.
The event’s chef line-up reads like a who’s who of culinary celebrities: executive chef Dustin Lewandowski of Wolfgang Puck’s MGM, executive chef David LeFevre of MB Post and Fishing with Dynamite, Lemonade’s founder and executive chef Alan Jackson, The Strand House pastry chef and “Cupcake Wars” winner Stephanie Franz, and local pastry chef and blogger Julia Webb. A VIP wine tasting will be held in the home’s vineyard.
Restaurateurs Michael and Andrea Zislis will be honored for their philanthropy and longtime support of the organization. The late Mary Lou Weiss, longtime manager of local farmers markets, will be remembered for her pioneering influence on the community’s health and diet.
“For us 15 years ago, (Weiss) was our mentor,” GrowingGreat cofounder and president Peggy Curry said. “She’s the one who really connected us to our farmers to help them bring their food into the schools.”
Peggy Curry and the late MaryLou Weiss
It started with one garden in 1999 — at Pacific Elementary School in Manhattan Beach. GrowingGreat’s original founder Marika Bergsund, a former resident and environmental attorney, sought to plant gardens at the four other elementary schools, and with a $50,000 grant from the California Department of Education, she did.
To pair with the students’ garden activities, Curry developed a comprehensive, standards-based nutrition program for third to fifth graders — from learning about healthy fats and reading food labels to making their own salad dressing from scratch. And in 2004, with funding coming from PTA, GrowingGreat launched its full program across all five elementary schools in the Manhattan Beach Unified School District.
Today, 50 elementary schools across Los Angeles County, San Diego, Las Vegas, New York and Northern California work with GrowingGreat. In partnership with singer-songwriter Jack Johnson’s foundation AINA (Actively Integrate Nutrition and Agriculture) in Schools, GrowingGreat also serves 17 schools in O’ahu. In total, that’s more than 30,000 students.
Grand View Elementary students sell produce grown in their garden at the school’s annual farmer’s market
About 350 volunteers — parents, teachers and docents — carry out GrowingGreat’s curriculums after undergoing training. Curry and staff previously held demonstrations for local volunteers in the past; now all that can be accessed in their online teaching portal.
Under GrowingGreat’s garden program, students plant seeds in the fall and spring; some schools have harvesting parties where students wash and prepare the produce for a farm-fresh GrowingGreat garden salad and dressing. At some schools, students host an afterschool farmer’s market, advertising and selling produce from their garden — Grand View Elementary raised $900 last year, with proceeds directly benefiting the garden.
“The garden teaches kids where their food comes from, but the nutrition piece is also critical to get them to understand why they want to eat this certain way,” Curry said. “Why the apple versus the apple fritter?”
To RSVP for GrowingGreat’s Farm-to-Table Benefit on July 12, visit GrowingGreat.org.