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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Arizona Sustainability Alliance Awarded $30,000 for Sustainable Food Systems Program

Donation from Arizona Businesses Advancing Stability will allow “Sow It Forward” to expand into Roosevelt School District


By Alexis Heichman


A check worth $30,000 was awarded to the Arizona Sustainability Alliance’s “Sow It Forward” program last week following a heartfelt speech from the president of Arizona Businesses Advancing Sustainability (AzBAS).

Dan Osterman, President of AzBAS stood before a small crowd on Sept. 8 to present a check to the Arizona Sustainability Alliance (AZSA) that will go toward helping the organization expand the program further into the Roosevelt School District.

Osterman was joined by fellow AzBAS colleagues, members of the AZSA and the superintendent of the Roosevelt School District. The ceremony took place at the V.H. Lassen Academy of Science and Nutrition, where both students and Principal Brian Lockwood excitedly awaited the presentation.

“I want to make sure we hear more success from more schools and expand the access to more students so they can have the exposure, the awareness, the motivation, the empowerment and to have access to healthy foods and know what it means,” said AZSA CEO Orlando Cazarez.

Osterman decided to award the money to the AZSA after he and his fellow board members created a scoring system to evaluate how both local organizations and public universities would handle the money. The AzBAS felt that the AZSA, due to the proposed Sow It Forward program, would do the most good in the long run, according to Osterman.

The check was made in honor of the late Teresa Clark, a former president of the AzBAS, who was extremely active in sustainability both personally and professionally. 

The Sow It Forward program (SIF), now implemented in 35 Arizona schools, is a sustainable food systems program that provides students, teachers and their community with access to fresh, healthy food. This program also aims to teach students the science behind sustainable farming.

Through the AZSA, participating schools receive
aeroponic or hydroponic vertical gardening systems and its corresponding curriculum. Aeroponic gardening does not use soil, but instead allows roots to grow in a dark air chamber that is periodically sprayed with nutrient-rich water. The stems and leaves of the plant grow outward on the chamber to receive light in order to photosynthesize. Hydroponics are similar, but rather than being sprayed, the roots are fully submerged in water. According to NASA, these systems can reduce water and fertilizer usage and completely get rid of pesticide usage.

Additionally, data collected by the AZSA shows that 35% of students in the Fowler Elementary School District said they didn’t eat fruits or vegetables daily before beginning the program. Now, many students are enthralled in the process of adopting a healthier diet.

It has been especially important and helpful to students at V.H. Lassen because the South Phoenix community is considered a “food desert,” according to Roosevelt School District Superintendent Dr. Dani Portillo. This is due to the lack of farms and supermarkets in the area.

“[This is important because] children can develop an understanding of where food comes from but also that they have power over what they eat,” said Portillo.

V.H. Lassen Academy of Science and Nutrition provides the students with a chance to help their immediate community with a food pantry that is open every Wednesday, according to principal Lockwood. It functions as both a food bank and supermarket and contains the food students grow in class. The students also have the opportunity to work in a culinary class that functions as a restaurant on campus that uses their produce.

“This partnership goes along with our district mission,” said Portillo. “Working together as a community, united, to create better futures for all.”

This donation is expected to be the last check the AzBAS will be able to give out due to its lack of funding following the COVID-19 pandemic. Osterman said the organization would likely be phasing out and dissolving within the upcoming year but that the businesses will still be working toward sustainability.


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