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Katrina garden touted
A filmmaker who lived in New Orleans during the Katrina hurricane disaster came to Ceres Thursday to impart some wisdom about the role that school garden programs can play in battling obesity.

Robert Lee Grant came to the Ceres Community Center to show his 31-minute documentary, "Nourishing the Kids of Katrina: The Edible Schoolyard." The film tells the compelling story about how renowned Berkeley chef Alice Waters' "Edible Schoolyard" program to improve the emotional and physical health of students at hurricane-ravaged Samuel J. Green Charter School in New Orleans.

The film illustrates how the garden not only helped poor families obtain nutritious fruits and vegetables but added a calm to the lives of those who were disrupted by Katrina. A student in the film says: "I really do love the garden because it's very peaceful out here. It's like, if they're shooting and you're really scared, you can hurry up and run to the garden. It's like, nobody won't cry here."

Grant said the presence of a school garden also tends to promote healthier eating. Once a student helps to cultivate corn or squash grow on a school campus at least he dismiss the notion that "food only comes from McDonald's," said Grant.

"If he grows it, he's willing to eat it," said Grant. "A big positive is a change in mindset," said Grant. "Before they didn't know that they weren't eating better. This changes their mentality and teaches there are disadvantages to the fast food lifestyle."

A number of Ceres schools have gardens, including Blaker Kinser Junior High and Walter White Elementary School. But the Edible Schoolyard programs takes it a step further. Students cultivate what they grow, then are taught how to cook it in the school cafeteria under a chef. Math and science teachers also are involved in the ecogastronomy program.

"It's a lab for the science teacher," said Grant, "and it's integrated into science and math curriculum."

Following his film, Grant led a discussion on how school gardens can contribute to the rebirth of vulnerable communities. The visit was sponsored by the Ceres Partnership for Healthy Children and the Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program.

Like New Orleans, the Valley communities suffers from high rates of poverty, obesity and diabetes. Lourdes Perez of the Ceres Partnership said that 35 percent of adults locally are below the federal poverty line, that Ceres suffers from a 20.3 percent unemployment rate, that one in three children are overweight or obese and that as many as 75 percent of adults here are overweight or obese.

Perez said that many of the poor living in areas like the Collins Road area are without transportation and often most resort to corner stores that sell more processed foods than fruits and vegetables. With fast food doing excellent marketing, as many as a large percentage eat

According to a recent study by UCLA, more than 15 million adult Californians are obese or overweight and more than 2 million have been diagnosed with diabetes.

"The issues raised in the film are particularly relevant to communities of the Valley," said the Perez, who is also a member of the Ceres School Board, "where fresh local produce is shipped out of the region, high rates of obesity and food insecurity exist, and there are low-income and rural communities who desperately need more support in addressing these issues." She also noted that the film stimulated "awareness and action around reviving unstable communities,"

Edie Jessup, a program specialist for the Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program, said the film is relevant to the Valley because it will sheds "light on how another devastated community and school was able to play a leading role in improving the health of children."