It's a sweltering summer morning but a group of teens are happy to be toiling in their school garden, where dozens of varieties of fruits and vegetables are ripening.
"It's fun," said Daemon Seilhan, 17.
"It makes me happy," said Deja Johnson, 16.
New Beginnings School Garden
It's also been a life-changing experience for many of the students at New Beginnings, a continuation school based at the Mendocino County Office of Education in Talmage.
"They're becoming more aware of what good food is," said Jonna Weidaw, a teacher at the eighth- through 12th-grade school.
That's so important, especially for children who have grown up on unhealthy foods, including some subsidies from the federal government, she said. The families of her Native American students typically are given lard, processed cheese and flour in their federal food packages, Weidaw said. It's no surprise that there's an epidemic of obesity and diabetes among that population, she said.
The subsidized food offerings are surprising because the government, at the same time, is funding advertising campaigns to encourage people to eat healthier, Weidaw noted.
As part of their nutrition education, her students have learned to read labels. They're appalled at what's in packaged food, like the "pink slime" that comprises protein substances in some fast food burgers.
"When the kids become aware of this, they say, &‘Wait a minute, I don't want to eat that,'" Weidaw said.
Thanks to their garden and nutrition programs, the students now are shunning unhealthy foods, she said. They used to show up for class in the mornings with sugary coffee drinks. Now they head into the garden first thing to pick fresh ingredients for tea.