A garden with raised beds viewed via a fence

      A hidden garden in Altadena (Photo – Jennifer Hall Lee)

      Tucked away inside the gates of Eliot Arts Magnet Academy in Altadena, there is a garden.

      By Jennifer Hall Lee

      A simple garden, yes, but quite large and it’s been there for over ten years. If you find yourself at Eliot one day and take some time to peer through the gates, you’ll see a beautiful sight; numerous raised wooden beds filled with vegetables, flowers, and herbs. There is even worm compost. In the middle of all this nature is one unusual item that begs you to take a closer look. It’s a small erasable white board mounted on a stick with a number written upon it. On the day I was there the number read 412.75.

      I was talking with the man who maintains the Eliot garden, Gary Day, who is also an Eliot parent. Gary teaches Eliot students how to grow food and he teaches them the meaning of that number on the white board. What is it anyway?

      “It’s the atmospheric CO2 expressed in parts per million. We get it from the official laboratory in Mauna Loa, Hawaii.”

      Basically, CO2 and other sources of pollution are the source of our global climate crisis. The heat is trapped here without an escape into space. The observatory in Mauna Loa has been keeping data on our atmosphere since the middle of the 20th century.

      Gary said, “In five months I’ve only had one person, an ex-science teacher who knew what that number was.”

      Gary said to me that it is “the most important number in our lives.”

      Carbon output. CO2. Greenhouse gases. Climate change. We hear the words and phrases quite often now since the topic of climate change first made the newspapers in 1979.

      A sign with a number on it in the middle of a garden

      The atmospheric CO2 number (Photo – Jennifer Hall Lee)

      Climate change in classrooms

      Why haven’t we solved the problem?

      According to a 2019 poll more than 80% of parents surveyed want climate change to be taught in schools. And 86% of teachers say we should teach it, but more than half of the teachers in the survey said they don’t cover climate change in their classrooms.

      Gary’s idea to put the CO2 number in the Eliot garden is a necessary step in understanding climate change. He wants to bring the number into our lives so we can all deal with it. He thinks this number should be in flashing lights everywhere, and I agree with him.

      He tells me that he has a twelve-year-old daughter “who in the next ten years will be facing quite possibly a real battle for her life. Fires, drought, ocean bereft of life.” Gary pauses and adds with a little dark humor. “That’s not the bad part,” he says. “Famine.”

      students stand in front of a table with produce on it

      Students at Eliot Garden Market (Photo – Jennifer Hall Lee)

      Eliot Garden Market

      Gary and the students at Eliot grow and sell their produce. They named it the Eliot Garden Market and on Friday afternoons after school hours Gary and the students staff the folding table upon which they place their bundles and baskets of botanical delights wrapped in twine; sage, kale, amaranth, passion fruit, squash. This spring there will be a plethora of multi-colored ranunculus! Gary even makes a natural bug repellent (Bug-Off!) that is made from lavender, water, and lemongrass.

      Most bundles sell for a dollar. This isn’t a money-making business, it’s the teaching and the process that is important.

      As I stood there one afternoon with the students, I looked over the produce and I felt something that eludes me in my busy life: simplicity. At the Eliot Garden Market there is time to talk. The students are happy and knowledgeable. I’ve seen neighbors walk down Calaveras Street with smiles on their faces to buy the Eliot produce.

      Buying locally invigorates our communities and reduces our need for automobiles.

      Parents and residents gather at the garden

      Eliot garden (Photo – Jennifer Hall Lee)

      Two degrees

      As I continued to talk with Gary on that December day I felt the garden grow cooler. “If we make it to 2-degree increase (in temperature) and stop, that will be the luckiest thing on earth” Gary said. Now that’s a goal that could save our lives.

      Two degrees requires a massive lifestyle change, but if the CO2 number keeps rising, we will experience unprecedented and horrific changes. Look no further than the bush fires in Australia – horrifying images that can motivate us to intervene if we accept the fact that we are changing our climate for the worst.

      Everyone needs to be aware. Imagine the CO2 number as ubiquitous as the Amazon logo.

      The Eliot Garden Market
      Future crops include beets, turnips, carrots, fennel, fava beans, cabbage and broccoli. A big lineup Of flowers will Start with Sweet peas (February), Ranunculus (first week Of March), nasturtiums, daffodils, stock and snap dragons.
      Open Fridays: 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm (except school vacation weeks, teacher training days, and summer vacation.) Gardener Gary, and all worms, will be working year-round.

      Jennifer Hall Lee is the Chairperson for both the Eliot Arts Annual Fund and the Altadena Town Council Education Committee. She lives in Altadena and is a PUSD parent.


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      1. Thom Hawkins says:

        Thanks to editor-in-chief Wafic Kahlil for having the courage to publish this story. This is journalism at its best. Jennifer Hall Lee wrote a telling account and Gary Day is a local hero. The students are exemplars for their generation. This is the way forward as we prepare for the worst by giving our best.

      2. Caroline Ducout says:

        More info about the sale of vegetables on Friday afternoon at the school please

      3. Kitty Cahalan says:

        The dad who spearheaded the effort to build them, Scott Lane, also built Longfellow’s garden! 🙂

      4. Hazel Clayton says:

        What a treasure! Why aren’t more schools teaching gardening ?

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