The city of Anaheim is a thriving area with so much allurement, famous for attractions like Disneyland, just miles from calm beaches, multiple stadiums and the list goes on. These entertainment spots might sound like an ideal stomping ground for visitors and tourists alike. However, if we take a deeper look into the neighborhoods where people who support these venues live, many would argue that Anaheim could use improvements to the infrastructure of its food systems. Believe it or not, many areas in Anaheim have census tracts where fast food restaurants and convenience stores dominate the area, while a proper supermarket remains elusive.  An area many would categorize as a food desert where low-income families are struggling to find fresh, healthy, and affordable produce.

As a student who lives in the Anaheim Union High School District boundary lines, I know first hand that residents face the daunting challenge of finding accessible, organic fruits and vegetables without breaking the bank. In 2021, the AUHSD took active steps to support the needs of the community it serves by turning a district owned underutilized 2.5 acre plot of land into what is now known as the Magnolia Agriscience Community Center (MACC).   This organic regenerative farm which grows over 60 varieties of fruits and vegetables has a mission to educate students, families, and the community about sustainable agricultural practices, food nourishment, and environmental sustainability. Through the project, the district hopes to see a social and cultural shift in how the AUHSD community approaches food habits because of their new scientific literacy of cultivating and using their own food grown in their neighborhood. 

 The MACC is an asset to everyone in the district, including staff members, teachers, families, and students.  It has changed the culture of education by allowing teachers to utilize the MACC as a source of information that connects what is being learned in the classroom to real life examples that helps make content matter for students.  As a school district with all 20 campuses winning the prestigious California Democracy School title, many students have opted to create civic action projects around solving food insecurity, creating access to locally grown produce, and campaigning for solutions to have environmentally sustainable grown food.   The MACC doesn’t just grow produce, it works as a green learning space for students. With 2.5 acres of learning space available as outdoor learning laboratories, teachers have been incorporating new curriculum in all types of classes from ROP construction classes to math classes. The MACC can be seen as a national model for all school districts in the nation to bring environmental solutions to better communities as school assets and resources.

Another opportunity of learning through experimentation offered to students using the MACC is not just limited to Magnolia students, but also to all AUHSD middle schools. Students from grades 7-12 can attend field trips where they are taught learning laboratories written by the UC Irvine Science Project. These experiences educate students on the need for urban regenerative agriculture while also giving them hands-on training in pollination, pesticide use, composting, and food production in a changing environment.

I have personally witnessed a shift in my teachers’ lesson plans, from a long class period of listening and writing and memorizing what has been written on the board to students being able to physically interact with what they are learning in the classroom. This change in instruction has not taken away from our education, in fact students have more freedom in the classroom and can voice their opinions using soapbox speeches and civic action projects utilizing the green space as an asset to learning.

All of the produce grown at the MACC farm stays in Anaheim to benefit the community. Currently, the AUHSD Food Services department purchases fresh produce from the MACC and are added to the menu items for students to enjoy when eating in school cafeterias. As a student at Magnolia High School, I can attest that this has been a big change from before. Having the option to select freshly grown produce at the salad bar gives students a break from the prepackaged peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that are typically offered.

This social and cultural diet shift isn’t just offered to students, parents and community members can try the MACC’s produce by going to Magnolia High School’s farmers market or buying the MACC produce boxes. Leftover produce is donated to a local city of Anaheim Food Pantry and to the new LOVE Anaheim mobile food truck.

In the spring of 2023, the AUHSD partnered with Fullerton College to offer a new dual enrollment course, Horticulture 1.  I personally enrolled in this class along with other AUHSD students. The class provided us with everything we needed to know about how to grow plants. We learned about their genetic and physical structure as well as the planning that goes in the landscaping of plants in urban places. This class was an experience that provided me with insight into the green spaces that live around me, and how plants interact with the world around them.

To support students in becoming actively engaged in their education, the AUHSD is transforming the community with its social and cultural shifts in how we approach food choices. Educational work is being done in classrooms along with opportunities for engaging families across the district. Students are given power to use their voices as active citizens and they now have an active working farm space to use to support their learning.  By using the MACC farm as an asset, students are equipped with the knowledge and passion to drive positive environmental change within their community, while advocating for their health and wellbeing. The MACC ignites a lasting spark of positive change, shaping the next generation of dedicated leaders from the AUHSD who are committed to a sustainable future for themselves and their community.  As a high school student, I am proud to say I have been part of this positive change and would encourage any public school to utilize green spaces on their campuses for learning in any capacity that makes learning relevant for students.

Yara Masedeh is a junior at Magnolia High School who spent her childhood growing up in Jordan.  She moved to Anaheim, CA when she was 12 years old.  Her favorite subjects in school are English and Mathematics however she enjoys extracurricular activities that advance her knowledge and skills using green agricultural spaces on her school campus.  Yara is involved in the Magnolia Agriscience Community Center Club and Friday Night Live in which she holds leadership positions.  Her aspirational career goal is to become a Biomedical Engineer.  

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