Champion for Change: Bari Applebaum

Bari Applebaum is a teacher at Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles, CA. Read below to learn more about how she is empowering her students to change their community through access to healthy food.

Photo courtesy of Adam Perez

Tell us about your journey with Girls Build. When and how did you first get involved?

I started as a Chemistry teacher at Manual Arts High School in 2016. Once I got to know my students and our school community, I recognized the need for student-driven community involvement. With my knowledge of edible landscaping and my students’ desire for green space, we rejuvenated the garden and made it a place for the school community and surrounding neighborhoods. As a part of Girls Build, my students formed Chicas Verdes, a group of girls who were excited about making their community greener and more sustainable. Now, Chicas Verdes hosts bi-weekly farmers markets on campus and a fruit tree adoption event yearly.

Can you please tell us more about your school and community?

Manual Arts High School is located in South Central Los Angeles. More than 90 percent of students at Manual Arts live in poverty. My students go through a lot – some miss meals at home and many have to zig-zag through neighborhoods to avoid dangerous streets. It is a community often overlooked by our government. And today, the members are taking it into their own hands to restore resources and opportunity.

What inspired you to lead your school’s chapter of Girls Build?

I’ve experienced firsthand how girls can empower each other. I wanted to help foster a community where girls could grow into leaders, where young women could lift each other up and understand their worth. The idea was to create a space where young women could witness how change can unfold with a little bit of grit.

We really admire your project to provide access to healthy food to students who lack access. How did the idea for this project come about?

Most of the students at Manual Arts rely on the district’s free lunch program — often devoid of healthy options. This bothered me. I saw an immediate need and a way to combat it: convert the abandoned lot behind the gym into a garden. I have always felt a sense of ease when I’m gardening. And frankly, there is nothing better than eating what you have grown. Building a garden felt like a natural solution to so many of the problems students experience daily. I wanted the students to feel the same connection to gardening that I have felt my whole life.

Photo courtesy of @gardenmanual

What have been the most challenging and rewarding aspects of the project?

The most rewarding aspect of the project is seeing students make healthier decisions because of what the garden has taught them. Now, my students make smoothies in the classroom for breakfast and salads in the garden for lunch, rather than eating processed and carb-heavy food provided by the district. They feel healthier and happier.

The biggest challenge was to get students to buy-in to this idea that building a garden would benefit their lives. Many of my students bring chips to school for breakfast and lunch — starting a garden felt like a crazy and foreign idea to them. Transitioning from what you are familiar with — eating processed foods — to growing your own food is a lifestyle change.  

How did you build your team?

Our team was originally a mix of girls who saw the garden and were curious and others that were dragged along by their friends. As the garden began to grow and more Chicas Verdes events popped up around campus, more girls joined. The garden has been an amazing space for girls from different friend groups and grades to connect.

Is Manual Arts participating in the Expo this year? If so, what are looking forward to the most?

We are! I am looking forward to learning from other teams and using what we learn to improve our project. And it’s great to have people to bounce ideas off of.

Did you attend the Girls Build Summit last September? If so, what was this experience like?

The Girls Build Summit was an amazing opportunity for my students to feel a sense of community on a massive scale. Being in a room with so many like-minded, passionate young women was empowering for both me and my students.

Photo courtesy of @gardenmanual

We love your commitment to empowering other women. What advice would you give to girls who are interested in getting involved in causes they are passionate about?

If you notice a problem, or something that could be better, do something about it. You can’t be passive. You have to be creative, be resourceful, and build a network of people who support you.

Who do you look to for advice, and who are your role models?

I look for advice wherever I can find it. I am constantly learning from my peers. Rachel Carson and Jane Goodall are my role models. I admire women who have dedicated their lives to creating global change.

Can you share with us any upcoming projects you are working on?

Chicas Verdes is working to add a flea market component to our farmers markets. To do this, we are creating a clothing recycling program. We are also developing facial and medicinal products from herbs we grow in our garden to increase access in our community.


To learn more about Bari and her students, you can follow the Chica Verdes along on Instagram at  @gardenmanual.

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