Grand Re-opening of the Marquez Garden

Marquez Elementary students gathered on the lower courtyard to celebrate the reopening of the garden on November 3.
Photo: Rich Schmitt/CTN


Former Palisades resident Marie Steckmest, who was a master gardener, devoted hours with students at Marquez Elementary.

In a 2018 story, this Editor wrote “With the school year coming to a close, Marquez Elementary gardening students and garden coordinator Marie Steckmest invited guests to a special celebration on May 30.

“Billy and Janice Crystal, the co-Honorary Mayors of Pacific Palisades, were among those enjoying kale smoothies, a wide assortment of vegetables to munch on and salsa.

Steckmest moved, and Marquez parents and teachers worked to keep the garden intact.

When Covid hit, intervention coordinator Laurie Farrell said, “The beds became overgrown, and we were not allowed on the campus.”

A year ago, it was decided that the area needed to be rebuilt and a curriculum developed. Science and Robotics Teacher Mrs. Akiko Arevalo and third grade teacher Alison Bihari sought help from Enrich L.A.

They contacted the nonprofit, to see what it would take to bring the program to Marquez. Working with Marquez office staff Bernadette Westerberg and with Friends of Maquez, money was found to fund the garden.

At the November 3 celebration of reopening the garden, Arevalo said, “This is an organic regenerative program without the use of pesticides, fungicides and herbicides.”

Cutting the ribbon on the grand reopening of the garden were (left to right) Dr. Latanya Reeves, Bernadette Westerberg and Akiko Arevalo.
Photo: Rich Schmitt/CTN

CTN spoke to Tomas O’Grady, the founder of Enrich L.A. about the program. He said he helped build the first garden at a public school in 2011 at Thomas Starr King Middle School to “bring edible gardening to all public schools.”

Now the nonprofit has about 200 schools and “we care for them and teach in them on a weekly basis,” he said.

O’Grady, who emigrated from Ireland in the early 1990s, explains the value of the garden is “Understanding where our food comes from, understanding how precious the Earth is and all of its inhabitants, not just humans.

“Developing an appreciation for the hard work that many of our fellow humans do on a daily basis so that we all may have food on our table,” he said, “and just the total joy of seeing tomatoes on the vine, the aroma of basil on your fingers and just the magic of watching butterflies, bees, ladybugs and beetles just come on about their life.”

CTN asked him, “Kids in Pacific Palisades are surrounded by nature, why is this garden as important as one might be in an inner-city school?”

“This is a farm, and there are not a lot of those around the Palisades. I genuinely believe that EVERY child, should experience the joy of growing food and having class outdoors,” O’Grady said.

“Surely we’re all better off if kids develop a deep respect for our earth and its soil and the people who work it,” he said.

Catilin Machol, president of Friends of Marquez, said they partnered with the nonprofit to revitalize the garden and to ensure that students in all grades will be able to participate in a six-week Garden Ranger Program.

Justine Tyler, a founder of Enrich LA, was at the ceremony.
Photo: Rich Schmitt/CTN

O’Grady’s wife, and partner in Enrich LA, Justine Tyler, was at the ceremony.

She is a former Marquez student.

Also in attendance was Alison Pohill, district director for LAUSD Board Member Nick Melvoin, who complimented the students on the singing of the Pledge of Allegiance.

Marquez Principal Dr. Latanya Reeves said, “I couldn’t do this job without the community and the parents. I appreciate the team that put this together. The vision of Marquez is moving forward.”

O’Grady added, “What a positive experience this has been for us at ENRICH LA to work with parents, teachers, and the administration at Marquez to get this project up and running. They raised funds, they pitched in, and they made it happen. Now we are ready to plant winter vegetables.”

Enrich L.A. Ranger Manang is ready to help Marquez students learn about gardening.
PHOTO: Rich Schmitt/CTN

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