GrowingGreat was created from our mutual passion for educating our families and community about the importance of food for their health. Our initial step building school gardens encouraged students to discover the magic of eating food grown by their own hands. We added interactive nutrition education and farm to school harvest tastings to further students’ understanding of the link between fresh food and their health. Collectively GrowingGreat empowers students and their families with the knowledge and necessary tools to make healthier choices.
Marika Bergsund is the original founder of GrowingGreat, starting its first elementary school garden in 1999. She served as GrowingGreat’s Executive Director through 2006. She is currently Executive Director of Slide Ranch in Muir Beach, CA.
Peggy Curry is co-founder of GrowingGreat, spearheading the development of the Classroom Nutrition and farm-to-school program. She co-authored the interactive Classroom Nutrition Lesson curriculum, and designed the volunteer training. Curry loves every aspect of food, and is passionate about educating and inspiring others to understand the benefit food has on our overall health. In 2012, she founded Curry Girls Kitchen in Manhattan Beach, CA.
Lori Sherman is a co-founder of GrowingGreat. She co-authored the Classroom Nutrition program curriculum and training modules. She served as Program Manager for the Classroom Nutrition Program for five years.
GrowingGreat began as a demonstration garden at a single elementary school in the Manhattan Beach Unified School District (MBUSD) in 1999, founded by Marika Bergsund. With a $50,000 grant from the California Department of Education, in 2001 Bergsund expanded the program to include gardens at all five MBUSD elementary schools, as well as a Farm-to-School Harvest of the Month tasting program. Aspiring to provide more direct nutrition education beyond the garden lessons, in 2002, Bergsund recruited Peggy Curry, a renowned local nutrition educator, Lori Sherman and Chris Weller to join forces to expand the GrowingGreat program. Originally focused on improving the quality of school food service, the team faced many political roadblocks and quickly recognized that they would have a greater and lasting impact by focusing on educating individuals on health and nutrition. By educating the students, parents and the community about the importance of choosing high quality foods and their associated health benefits they sought to reach the root of the issue. Together the founders developed a comprehensive, standards-based Classroom Nutrition Program for grades 3-5, which they launched in all 5 MBUSD elementary schools in 2004.
GrowingGreat received 501(c)3 status in 2006 and operated entirely via volunteer support until 2008, when they hired their first full-time Executive Director. We also began expanding beyond Manhattan Beach. Food for Thought Ojai adopted our school garden curriculum for the Ojai Unified School District’s five elementary schools. Via a grant from the Kokua Hawaii Foundation, we served as consultants and curriculum experts for AINA in Schools (Actively Integrate Nutrition and Agriculture), a pilot project for the State of Hawaii Public Schools. We also replicated parts of our program in the Redondo Beach Unified School District, serving 650 students in four elementary schools and held our first major community event with 500 participants. In 2007, we expanded the volunteer based programs to four more schools in school districts in Hawthorne, Culver City and Torrance, CA. In late 2007, The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) approached GrowingGreat to adapt our model to focus on inner city youth. In the fall of 2008, we doubled the number of students we served from 4,000 to 8,000, launching a two-year pilot in ten low-income, Title 1 elementary schools.
In 2009, we expanded our volunteer programs to additional schools in Culver City, LAUSD and Las Vegas, NV. We collaborated with the Milagro Foundation to expand our curriculum and create a GrowingGreat Academy in three low income schools in Marin City, CA. In 2010 -2011 we added volunteer-led programs at schools in Culver City, Palos Verdes, El Segundo, Santa Monica and Los Angeles. Our 5th Annual “Healthy Living Festival” had over 65 exhibitors, 5,000 participants and raised $40,000 in corporate sponsorships. We are currently serving over thirty schools and 16,000 students and families. We have developed a web-based training model to enhance the delivery, accessibility and scalability of our programs.
We launched our Online Nutrition Education Training and a nationwide expansion effort to provide the opportunity to implement the GrowingGreat curriculum in their schools or after school programs anywhere in the world. GrowingGreat hit an amazing benchmark serving over 150,000 students and families!
Beyond schools, STEM labs and supper tables, GrowingGreat believes that nutrition and garden education have a place in all learning environments – including science centers and children’s museums. Led by GrowingGreat, the My First Garden network provides interactive experiences that teach children and families how a seed grows or where food comes from, providing nutrition information and healthy snacks for those in need. Preschoolers use beginning math and science skills to study fruits and vegetables they haven’t encountered and eat their experiments! The curriculum, found in museums across the U.S., includes GrowingGreat’s Play with your food/Juguemos con la comida series — ten ready-to-use activities connecting science, garden, nutrition and literacy, in both English and Spanish. In 2018 alone, 100 educators received My First Garden activities at the Association of Science-Technology Centers and the National Association for the Education of Young Children conferences, in addition to 200 more museum staff through two national webinars. The network remains open to all, including institutions that don’t have a garden or nutrition program — yet.
We envision a world in which all communities have access to fresh, minimally-processed foods; all parents are empowered to make healthy food choices for their families; and every school garden is an outdoor STEM Learning Lab.
1) Strengthen core partnerships in under-resourced communities
• Start a new GrowingGreat-led elementary school partnership
• Coordinate and expand efforts with other garden organizations
• Maintain national collaboration for PreK-12 STEM and literacy
• Develop and implement an effective impact evaluation
2) Focus program delivery on four methods that ensure adherence and efficacy, demonstrating one program working at scale for each:
• GrowingGreat staff visit schools and teach our programs
• Collaborations with experienced educators who teach programs on their own with our support and curriculum
• Free consultations to under-resourced schools
• Create and share hands-on science and literacy-based activities
3) Engage parents in Spanish- and English-speaking households
• Offer family garden festivals in under-resourced communities featuring planting, cooking, and hands-on activities
• Review every aspect of written and spoken programming to assure we are inclusive of Spanish-speaking families
4) Increase program online visibility and accessibility
• Continue to expand social media presence
• Update website and online curriculum to become mobile-friendly
• Use social media to increase Fall and Year-End giving