School Grown Movement

In 1993, a group of 8th grade immigrant students planted an idea with Mrs. Eva Cupchoy, the instructional assistant in their class, which became the catalyst to begin a vegetable garden at Bell Gardens Intermediate School (BGI), under the guidance of teacher, Mr. John Garza.  Thus, began a program that not only brought students together as a group, but also created something that eventually would encompass more than just growing vegetables and beautifying schools; it became a movement that transformed the health of LA communities.


Food deserts are defined as parts of the country without access to fresh fruit, vegetables, and other healthful whole foods. This lack of local access to healthy foods makes it difficult for families who live in low-income urban communities to maintain a well-balanced, nutritious diet. With limited transportation options, these families must resort to purchasing unhealthy processed foods from nearby fast food restaurants or local corner stores. A diet poor in fruits and vegetables increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer and other illnesses that disproportionately affect people of color.



The Program

Located in southeast Los Angeles and the western San Gabriel Valley, Montebello Unified School district has a garden club in every one of its schools (27 total). Students participate in the gardens during break, lunch, before and after school.  The district also uniquely has the GREEN (Globally Responsible Environmental Education Network) pathway, which seeks to raise community awareness of the practices of good stewardship of the earth, help students build a vision for the emerging industries surrounding green technologies, and to promote careers in such fields.  Student involvement across the district continues when school is not in session in order to meet the year round demands of the gardens. They take home vegetables and herbs to share with their families and develop recipes to publish in the Healthy Cooking Recipe Book.  They maintain journals of food and beverage intake, which serve as an empowering tool in making healthy food choices, and learning to live healthier through better nutrition, exercise, and stress management skills.  

Students also grow assorted produce for healthy cooking workshops and Farmers’ Markets hosted in the school district.  The role of accessing locally grown, natural produce through the Farmers’ Markets coupled with an educational focus on healthy food choices remains a critical strategy to combat diabetes and obesity. Throughout the year, the students participate in the MUSD Farmers’ Market (a twenty-first century global marketplace where each club sells produce from its garden) and Mini-Markets under their own School Grown Movement label, generating sustainability of club activities, and in the case of the BGI Environmental Garden Club, to support 30 scholarships district-wide, given to K-12 students yearly.


  • Since 2005, the program has been recognized by members of congress, the California State Assembly, and local city council for its contributions to the community.

  • September of 2013, First Lady Michelle Obama acknowledged this program for its commitment and service to the community.

  • The book, Marketing the Green School: Form, Function, and the Future, highlighted the garden initiative in Bell Gardens schools as a model for effective practices in eco-design in 2014.

  • May 2016, Mr. John Garza and Mrs. Eva Cupchoy, were each honored with the distinguished Educator of the Year Award for their 24-year dedication to sustainable urban environmental methodology and community building.

  • The School Grown Movement received state recognition with the prestigious Golden Bell Award by the California School Boards Association in December, 2016.

  • In April 2017, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health recognized the School Grown Movement for achieving a district-wide garden-based health program.

  • May 2017, the program was bestowed the Educational Excellence Award by the Los Angeles County Office of Education.