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How School Garden Mania Swept Los Angeles a Century Ago

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It's hard to imagine now, but over a century ago at the corner of 7th Street and Wilson downtown was one of city's first public schools and ground zero for Los Angeles' school garden movement.

Sam Watters explains at the Los Angeles Times that educators at that time had this radical idea that not all learning had to take place inside a classroom. In 1910, the city's Board of Education hired a woman named Marie Aloysius Larkey, who was trained in agriculture economy and ended up kicking off the school garden movement. Your inner Caitlin Flanagan may believe that school gardens are useless in a post-agricultural economy or that they're offensive to the sons and daughters of people who escaped life on a farm, but this wasn't the case then.

The first school garden on a formerly "squalid" lot was tilled by the children of those who worked in factories, banks and department stores, who couldn't afford to send their kids to private schools. But the students didn't stop there: the garden expanded and more than 70,000 of Larkey's students went on to till 150 vacant lots around the city. This had the effect of beautifying Los Angeles, but also helping to feed its children and residents during World War I. The kids loved their gardens so much that teachers used gardening as a springboard for lessons on geometry, science and art.

The school garden movement declined in the late 1920s, and we're guessing most of those well-tilled lots around the city got paved over with asphalt—just like the school that used to be on 7th and Wilson. (Check out the old picture at the Los Angeles Times post)