For more than six decades, the Pasadena Community Foundation has provided funding to the city’s nonprofit sector through the generosity of a small group of individuals, families and businesses known as its Endowment Builders. They support all of the grant-making PCF does in the Pasadena area each spring — money that stays in the community and helps sustain the resources and services that make the city great. Continue reading “PCF Urges Prospective Endowment Builders to ‘Be 1 in 100’”
Among the rows of sunflowers and fresh herbs, patches of zucchini, tomatoes and chard burst from the ground. Butterflies flutter between colorful zinnias, lizards scamper across sun-warmed soil, bees buzz about and the fragrance of roses wafts through the air. Sometimes, change sprouts from the most unexpected places, and in northwest Pasadena, on two acres sandwiched between John Muir High School and the 210 freeway, is a flourishing urban garden, where knowledge is cultivated, hidden talents are unearthed and futures begin to blossom.
“We’re a teen jobs program that looks like a school farm,” explained “Mud” Baron, the aptly named master gardener and executive director of Muir Ranch. For the past four years, Baron has taught students at Muir how to plant, grow and harvest their own food and flowers. They’ve learned how to till soil, to cast worms, when to water and when not to. They’ve learned to arrange and sell bouquets, manage orders and work with clients. If they can endure the sun, sweat and dirt, and they keep coming back, they get a paycheck out of it.
Before it had a name, Muir Ranch started with a few flower beds in an empty lot — the brainchild of Doss Jones, a retired Muir science teacher with a vision for an outdoor classroom. With administrative approval and a grant from Pasadena Water and Power, Jones worked with Shirly Barrett, facilities grounds coordinator for Pasadena Unified School District, to build a small drought-tolerant garden behind the campus.
“The garden came from a deep sense in me of kids being disconnected from the earth,” said Jones. “I wanted to take the computers out of their hands and put soil in them, have them grow plants and experience the wonder of nature.”
Jones met Baron, who’d previously worked as a school gardens consultant and green policy deputy for L.A. Unified School District, through a master gardening course, and in 2011, brought him on to help shape the space into what it is today.
“We started off the program with no infrastructure,” said Baron. “There were a couple of garden beds and a concrete rubble pile and some kids that had never had jobs before. So I was like, ‘Alright, let’s figure this out.’”
It wasn’t surprising that the allure of nature that brought students to the ranch in the beginning. Many were filling elective requirements or recovering credits. Others used it as an excuse to get out of gym class or complete detention. Even for those who chose to be there, doing manual labor in the hot sun felt a lot like punishment.
“It was like, ‘Go outside and work in a field,’” recalled Manny Garcia, a program veteran who graduated from Muir in 2013. He started working on the ranch in the summer of 2012 to make up some class credits. “It was scorching. It was dirty. I used to mess up my clothes and my good shoes, and it was arrogant of me coming in here with new, fresh shoes and working in the mud and dirt. It’s a dirty job.”
As he spent more time in the garden, however, Garcia’s attitude started to shift. Under Baron’s mentorship, he began to learn by doing, taking an interest in subjects that never held his attention in the classroom.
“Mud started talking to me as an adult, rather than treating me as a student,” he explained. “He taught me what photosynthesis is, what perennials are, the way plants grow and how they exist to multiply and give off oxygen. My mind just started growing.”
For fellow alumna Alondra Suaste, who chose the ranch as an elective shortly after its launch in 2011, it was the sense of comradery that kept her around.
“People were just friendly, and it was very easy to get involved,” the 19-year-old said. “I remember starting high school here and this was nothing but piles of mulch, and as I would see the progress that people were making, I started liking it. Being a part of something that can change people’s lives, it’s something that I’m proud of.”
Both Suaste and Garcia have since graduated and are now paid employees of Muir Ranch, running the flower department that helps sustain the program through farmers’ market sales, weddings and private events. Additional income is brought in by Muir’s tax-deductible community supported agriculture program, which has about 75 weekly subscribers. Throughout the year, Muir Ranch also partners with local chefs and restaurants to host farm-to-table dinners in the garden, raising funds for the program while highlighting the students’ harvest in professionally prepared dishes.
All of this is helping to shape the way students think and feel about the food they eat. By growing their own food, students form a personal connection with it, gaining a deeper understanding of the journey from seed to plate.
“When you put so much work into something, you want to taste the outcome, and what’s better than eating what you grow?” said Suaste. “I’ve gotten to try all kinds of new foods that we grow. I enjoy it now, because I know where it comes from.”
That’s not to say all of the kids at Muir are ready to abandon their Flaming Hot Cheetos.
“Most of them don’t even eat fresh food,” sighed Jill McArthur, who manages the Muir Ranch CSA program. “We’re now in the generation that grew up on fast food, and that’s what everyone does, because it’s cheap. If you can do that, why would you buy and prepare fresh food if that’s not part of your culture growing up?”
In changing students’ attitudes, one can’t ignore the reality of his/her surroundings, and at Muir High School, it’s not all sunshine and roses. Many of Muir’s students are dealing with much bigger issues — 86% are on free or reduced lunch, while 23% live in group homes or foster care.
“To be a gardener is about nurturing, and it’s a tall order to ask someone who may not have anything to take care of something else,” explained Baron. “A lot of my kids just need paychecks, so we’ve become a work program.”
Paid internships are available to Muir students who work on the farm during summer break or outside of class hours during the school year. Students start out on a volunteer basis, and after two weeks, they’re added to the payroll. For many with no previous job experience, working at Muir Ranch offers not only a steady part-time income, but also enhances their post-high school employment prospects.
“A lot of these kids, when they get really good, tend to get hired elsewhere,” Baron said. “So they’re going into the working world with some years of experience: knowing how to show up on time, follow instructions and work in a self-directed way, which are all things employers want.”
Not all of Baron’s prodigies will become farmers. Suaste eventually plans to move on and get a nursing degree, though she says she’ll stay involved with the ranch in her spare time. The green-thumbed Garcia, however, is convinced he’s found his calling. Having learned about water conservation and worked with drip irrigation systems at Muir Ranch, the enterprising 20-year-old sees opportunities for a career in water-wise landscaping, particularly as California’s drought continues to worsen.
“Naturally, California has a lot of day laborers who are Mexicans, Salvadorans, whatever, and people make fun of me for working as a gardener, but I really don’t care. I’m going to change the way Californians use their water,” he declared. “Those changes are coming, and that’s going to be my business. It’s all about what you need for the future.”
Aside from developing problem-solving, communication, customer service and business management skills, at Muir Ranch, students learn responsibility, teamwork, initiative and self-reliance. Perhaps most important, they learn to be leaders, finding a sense of purpose in the garden — whether they’re looking for it or not.
“This has a huge beneficial effect for everyone that comes through here,” said McArthur. “Learning how to do what you’re asked to do and not complain about it is a life skill. Persevering through a job that you don’t like is a life skill. Finding out that you have a gift when you thought you had nothing to look forward to? That is huge.”
We Welcome Your Letters to The Editor
Outlook readers who have opinions about any number of local issues are invited to submit letters to the editor for publication.
Letters should be kept as brief as possible, preferably limited to 200 words. All letters to the Outlook become property of the Outlook and may be edited or condensed for any reason. They should be submitted by one person only and be accompanied by a current address and valid telephone number.
Printed letters do not necessarily reflect the Outlook’s opinion; our Letters to the Editor section is an opportunity for readers to engage in a community forum.
Send submissions by email to email@example.com. Please write “Letter to the Editor” as the subject line.
Or fill out the form below.
Subscribe to Outlook Newspapers to keep updated on what is happening in your community. La Cañada Outlook, Pasadena Outlook, and San Marino Outlook provide weekly coverage of local news, business, events, schools, philanthropy, and sports. Subscribe today and we will deliver community news to your home.
Outlook Newspapers is a set of weekly newspapers with a vision of not only informing the communities we serve, but strengthening the relationships among its members and organizations.
We provide a positive and uplifting emphasis on the important events concerning our city, our schools, our sports and our charities.
We believe in synergy among Outlook readers, its advertisers and philanthropic organizations.
As readers peruse our pages for pictures and stories of themselves, their children, their grandchildren, their neighbors, their former students, their fellow board members, they raise their awareness of what’s happening in their little slice of paradise. Our readers devour our paper, most often turning and looking at every single page to locate their student or someone they know. We make your world smaller.
The Pasadena Outlook has been covering Pasadena since the fall of 2008. We have nurtured relationships with the large, but homogeneous community of private elementary, middle and high school families, with Pasadena city officials and with the incredible array of philanthropic organizations that call the Rose City home.
The Pasadena Outlook is delivered by mail every Thursday to more than 17,400 homes and businesses in the Pasadena area. An additional 5,100 copies are delivered to locations throughout the Pasadena area, including various private schools, real estate offices and many of the local Starbucks stores.
The La Cañada Flintridge Outlook has been publishing since 1998. We have extensive, long-standing contacts with city government, with the La Cañada Unified School District, and with sports activities at all levels. We maintain active relationships with the Crescenta-Cañada YMCA, Verdugo Hills Hospital, Descanso Gardens Guild, Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station, the L.A. County Fire Department’s local stations, local artistic and performing groups and many other groups in the community.
The LCF Outlook is the recipient of both the prestigious Les Tupper Community Service award and the PTA’s Founder’s Day award. The Les Tupper award recognizes organizations for their exceptional support of charitable programs and community projects. The PTA Founder’s Day award recognizes an organization for its devotion to local schools. The LCF Outlook is also the recipient of numerous outstanding Business Achievement Awards, presented by the La Cañada Flintridge Chamber of Commerce.
The LCF Outlook is delivered every Thursday to approximately 10,900 homes and businesses in the 91011 zip code. An additional 3,200 copies are delivered to more than 100 locations with high foot-traffic volume in LCF, Pasadena, Glendale, La Crescenta and Montrose.
The Outlook doesn’t ignore the big issues, but we make room for the small, but ultimately more meaningful issues that land right in our reader’s backyards: what is happening in my community and who is involved?
The Outlook answers important questions, such as:
- Who is planning the next charity gala?
- Which charity truly emphasizes aid for the homeless?
- Where can I learn about parenting skills?
- When is the next high school band concert?
- Why did the local football coach take a job in another city?
Outlook Newspapers believes that strong community newspapers are essential to building strong communities. We strive to produce economically sound newspapers that foster pride in the communities they serve and to make a difference in the quality of life for residents and merchants.
Our Motto: Building strong communities, one smile at a time.