Debbie's Diary: Master Gardeners Help FoodCorps Service Members Grow in Southern California

Debbie's Diary: Master Gardeners Help FoodCorps Service Members Grow in Southern California


FoodCorps has held a special place in my heart ever since I served as a FoodCorps service member at Phelan Elementary during the 2019-2020 school year. It was hard work and also immensely rewarding to connect kids with healthy food and share the joy of gardening. I loved seeing the smiles on students' faces when they harvested their first tomato from the school garden and tasted their first “rainbow” smoothie.

FoodCorps' Work

FoodCorps' mission is to “partner with schools and communities to nourish kids' health, education, and sense of belonging.” Their vision is that “every child, in every school, experiences the joy and power of food”.  As a member of the AmeriCorps network, FordCorps provides leadership and educational opportunities for service members in limited-resource communities. In addition, FoodCorps advocates for policy change to promote equity and sustainability in the school food environment.

The Service Member's Role

Service members must complete at least 1700 service hours during an 11-month term. They are paid a living stipend and receive a Segal Education Award after successfully completing their term. Those who serve in California also receive a California for All Education Award.

FoodCorps service members focus on three main areas of impact: leading hands-on lessons, influencing nourishing school meals, and building a schoolwide culture of health. In the first area, they teach students to grow, prepare, and taste new foods with interactive lessons linked to academic standards. To influence school meals, service members conduct taste tests, promote healthy food choices in the cafeteria, and work with school district administrators and staff to add local foods to school meals. To build a culture of health, service members collaborate with the entire school community–including teachers, administrators, and families–to plan activities such as family cooking nights and garden work days.

Master Gardeners Help with Garden Training

FoodCorps service members start the school year with a wide range of gardening and farming experience. Some have majored in agriculture, and others have grown only houseplants. Most are expected to start or maintain gardens at the schools where they serve.

To provide their service members with a basic level of gardening know-how, FoodCorps site supervisors in Los Angeles (Rachel Black), Upland (Cassidy Furnari), and San Diego (Janelle Manzano) planned a joint garden training class. Cassidy, the Upland Unified School District (UUSD) Farm to School Manager, asked the San Bernardino County Master Gardeners to help deliver the training at Baldy View Elementary, which has an extensive vegetable garden, native plant garden, and orchard. Maggie O'Neill, the Master Gardener Coordinator, and I were excited to accept the challenge and prepare for the class.

FoodCorps Garden Training Class
Six FoodCorps service members attended the half-day garden training on Wednesday, August 17th. The main topics were garden maintenance, composting, tree pruning, and IPM (Integrated Pest Management). For the first hour, Cassidy gave an introduction to garden maintenance including irrigation systems, soil building, plant pruning, and weed control. She also explained how garden clubs are organized at Upland schools and how to involve students in regular garden tasks.

For the next half-hour, I led a hands-on demonstration of how to teach composting to students. I asked the service members to line up and add greens (food waste) to the compost bins followed by browns (mulch). Then everyone took turns watering the compost piles and turning them with shovels. That's all there was to it! To continue the decomposition process, compost needs to be watered and turned on a regular basis. For reference, I gave the service members copies of a composting resource sheet and my favorite compost guide from LA Compost.

FoodCorps tree pruning workshop
Maggie continued the training with a tree pruning workshop where service members tried out different pruning tools in the Baldy View orchard. Since some of the trees were overgrown, three Master Gardener volunteers–Emy Shibukawa, Carolyn Paul, and Gary Mannon–joined the group to prune more trees in the background. To finish the training, Maggie introduced the service members to the UC IPM webpage  and provided a pest identifier tool and handouts on beneficial insects and the basics of integrated pest management. Service members also selected seeds to take home to their sites.

After the training, the FoodCorps service members, site supervisors, and Master Gardeners gathered for a healthy lunch including figs, tomatoes, cucumbers, and squash harvested from the Upland school gardens. A fitting end to a productive day! I hope this experience inspires some of the service members to become Master Gardeners in the future.

Meet the Upland USD FoodCorps Service Members

Valerie Tu
Before I end this month's blog, I'd like to introduce the FoodCorps service members currently serving in Upland schools–Valerie Tu and Meagan Hoguin. I look forward to collaborating with these talented young women as part of my work with the Upland Farm to School Program.

Valerie Tu has returned for a second year with FoodCorps after spending a year as a Fullbright Scholar and English Teaching Assistant in Taiwan. She is teaching at Baldy View Elementary and Citrus Elementary. During her first year at UUSD in 2020-2021, Valerie's interaction with the students was entirely virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Valerie graduated from the New York University Gallitin School of Individualized Study with a Bachelor of Arts, concentrating on the politics of food. While studying at NYU, she also worked as a farm operations intern, a resident assistant, and a culinary intern at the Museum of Food and Drink among other activities.  

Meagan Holguin
Meagan Holguin just started her first year with FoodCorps at UUSD. She is teaching at Upland Elementary and Cabrillo Elementary. Meagan graduated from California State University, Long Beach with a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology. During her time at Cal State, she traveled abroad as a sustainability intern in Bulgaria and a community garden intern in Italy. After graduation, Meagan worked remotely as the Director of Agriculture and Sustainability for Stone & Compass to create a nationwide internship for an agricultural study abroad program in Bulgaria.

FoodCorps' Impact

I am so grateful to Valerie, Meagan, and all the FoodCorps service members who devote a year or more to promoting food justice in schools and communities across the county. Last school year, FoodCorps service members taught 15,000 lessons, led 6,000 food tastings, and supported over 350 gardens nationwide. In four Upland schools, approximately 1,400 students received biweekly FoodCorps programming, and nearly 2,000 students participated in lunchtime activities and engagement during the school year. Through these types of hands-on learning activities, service members will help FoodCorps reach its goal for every child to have access to food education and nourishing food in school by 2030.

Have you enjoyed reading this blog? Do you have questions? Need help with school gardens or environmental education? If so, send an email to I look forward to hearing from you.


By Deborah Schnur
Author - Environmental Education Coordinator