Dozens of students at Hollenbeck Middle School got their hands dirty building planter boxes, digging up fresh soil and planting a variety of fruit and vegetable seedlings in their new Teaching Garden, which was donated by Keck Medicine of USC and opened to students on Nov. 28.

The American Heart Association’s (AHA) Teaching Gardens program is a real-life laboratory where kids get to plant seeds, nurture growing plants and harvest produce with their own hands, ultimately learning the value of good eating habits.

“Keck Medicine of USC recognizes the vital role healthy eating plays in the well-being of our overall community,” said Paul Craig, RN, JD, chief administrative officer for Keck Medicine.  “We’re proud to support the new Teaching Garden and its mission to inspire hands-on learning and healthy eating habits at an early age — while allowing kids to dig in and have fun.”

In addition to supporting the school’s Teaching Garden, Keck Medicine will participate in several volunteer opportunities at Hollenbeck Middle School and host a student field trip in the spring of 2018. It also will fund the building of another Teaching Garden in East Los Angeles next year.

There are 45 Teaching Gardens in Los Angeles County to date. The AHA’s goal is to establish an additional 60 Teaching Gardens in LA by the year 2020.

“Childhood obesity is one of the most critical health problems facing the country today and it’s threatening the health and future of millions of children,” said Shawn Cassey, affiliate development officer for the AHA Greater Los Angeles Division. “Healthy habits develop early in life. With Teaching Gardens, we are showing kids what it means to be healthy and empowering them to not only grow their own food, but also make better choices to improve their health and quality of life.”

In the U.S., about one in five school-aged children has obesity, more than triple the rate from the 1970s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Garden-based nutrition programs can promote increased fruit and vegetable intake among children, AHA officials say. Rooted in the AHA’s dietary recommendations for children, the Teaching Gardens program has a curriculum full of garden-themed lessons, teaching nutrition, math, science and other subjects. For more information about the Teaching Gardens, go to

To learn how to sponsor a school garden, contact Katy Ciempa at (213) 291-7070 or