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Fun with seeds: Calfresh Catholic Charities expands nutrition and gardening education in LA County

| California

Apr 27, 2023


Students learned about an ancient method of seed dispersal and seeding without the need for containers of any kind. In California SNAP-Ed is called CalFresh Healthy Living. CalFresh Healthy Living-Catholic Charities of Los Angeles (CFHL-CCLA) is one of CA’s implementing agencies. This agency supports a garden project that increases food and nutrition security. The program promotes healthy food access for youth and their families. This project engages the CalFresh Healthy Living (CFHL) urban agriculture team, school staff, and students. They build and manage gardens to improve access to nutritious, affordable, and safe foods. While the CCLA garden team utilizes CFHL-approved garden-based curricula for lessons, keeping students engaged in learning can be challenging.  The team introduced new, novel garden-based activities such as seed balls to keep learners engaged and connected to the curriculum.   

Students planted some of the seed balls they created in their on-site garden and produced a rapid harvest of radishes in a matter of weeks, along with a pollinator border of California poppies. During the last fiscal year (2022) the two school gardens yielded over 200 pounds of fresh produce for students and their families, some of which was used in recipe demos and tastings in classes, with the remainder being distributed among students to take home. 


Due to rising housing costs and inflation, many households struggle to find a way to feed their families.  Los Angeles (LA) County youth experience high rates of food insecurity and obesity that are concentrated in historically disadvantaged communities. To address these disparities and the need for increased consumption of fruits and vegetables among youth, the CalFresh Healthy Living – Catholic Charities of Los Angeles (CFHL-CCLA) team provides nutrition education and obesity prevention strategies in schools.

Students proudly show their finished seed balls and soiled hands


Over the last 3 years, the SNAP-Ed CFHL-CCLA garden program, in partnership with local Catholic schools and parishes, provided youth with access to fresh and healthy food through gardening and nutrition education. The CFHL-CCLA garden program provides nutrition and gardening education (Growing Healthy Habits, Nutrition to Grow On, Fresh from the Garden), food demonstrations, and urban gardening projects to youth and community members. The goals are to:

  • increase consumption of vegetables and fruits
  • improve knowledge and skills of gardening practices. 

The CCLA garden program established on-site vegetable gardens at St. Ignatius of Loyola School, located in the northeast part of Los Angeles, and at St. Frances X. Cabrini School, located in the south region of Los Angeles. The gardens bring gardening and nutrition education to 3rd to 8th grade students in these communities.  Students at each school participate in hour long garden and nutrition education programs once a week.

students made their own seed balls using vegetable seeds

Keeping Learning Fun

To keep learners engaged, the team often supplements with activities and that are new and exciting. One such activity was a recent seed ball making activity. Over the winter of 2022, students learned about different methods for growing various vegetables from seed. Through a donation of powdered red clay, castings, and seeds, students expanded on their seed starting knowledge. This activity reduced potential waste from the use of plastic pots or trays. Following an educational lesson on the history and uses of clay seed balls, students made their own seed balls using vegetable seeds. These plants could later be incorporated into their school garden.

At the end of the activity, students were given the opportunity to talk about what they wanted to do with their newly made seed balls. One third-grade student shared, “I want to give this seed ball to my grandma because she has a garden, and she can take care of it there.”

This activity not only introduced students to new concepts but also provided an opportunity for students to share what they are learning in the garden program with their family.

CCLA’s CFHL/SNAP-Ed urban agriculture project has reached more than 600 students and their families since its start in 2021, and is continually expanding to more schools, reaching ever-greater numbers of youth and families.

Sustaining Success

The garden program started in 2018 with one school site and has since expanded to other Catholic schools in Los Angeles. This program connects Catholic parishes and other community members in the Los Angeles area to resources about gardening and nutrition through active participation in garden spaces/food production.

The success of the partnership between the SNAP-Ed CFHL-CCLA garden program and Catholic schools and parishes can be seen in the interest and engagement of the youth served, and the value they place on the program. In a recent survey of interests created by the CFHL-CCLA team, students were asked to provide feedback on the garden and nutrition content they have learned in the program so far. When asked about their favorite activities, many of students responded, ‘the clay seed ball activity!’

These fun, garden-based activities coordinated by the CFHL-CCLA garden program engage students from underserved communities to strengthen their knowledge of nutrition and urban gardening. With the skilled work of CCLA’s urban agriculture team and local community partnerships, CFHL-CCLA looks forward to expanding and sharing fun garden activities that help promote healthy habits with more Catholic and local school districts in the coming years.

Contact Information:
Elisa L Quinlan, MSPH
Director of Nutrition and Healthcare Access
Catholic Charities of California
1107 9th Street, Suite 707
Sacramento, CA 95814
P (916) 476-5223 | F (916) 662-7994
C (530) 746-1800

Logos: Catholic Charities of California; CalFresh Healthy Living; CalFresh Food
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