Food is a force for good. Which is why we work with amazing community partners to improve and empower healthy eating in our cities. One of those incredible partners: Garden School Foundation. In addition to this organization’s tireless efforts to empower youth with seed-to-table programming in underserved communities, Garden School also recently became one of our sourcing partners.

That’s right: The mint in our seasonal Watermelon Mint Juice at our USC Village location is now largely sourced from our awesome LA-based community partner. We’re thrilled to bring this lovingly cultivated product directly into one of our restaurant locations, particularly because Garden School’s learning hub at 24th Street Elementary is just a stone’s throw away from our USC Village location.

Recently, we sat down with Kathryn Kocarnik, co-director at the Garden School Foundation, and Rachel Black, Program Manager and Garden Educator at the Garden School Foundation, to chat about this exciting partnership. 

Why mint? 

Kathryn: Mint is a wonderful sensory herb that has a beautiful smell and taste to it. Kids are always surprised by the flavor and love to add it to their water bottles, nibble on it as they walk through the garden, and harvest a bundle to take home to their families. Mint is a plant that grows in abundance that everyone enjoys. It also provides lots of educational lessons – not only in its nutrition and flavor, but looking at its root structure, leaf pattern, preservation for tea, and beyond.Garden School Foundation Mint Partnership for CAVA USC VillageHow long has the Garden School Foundation been growing mint?

Kathryn: Mint is a staple in our gardens and many of our plants have been growing since we started the organization.

Mint’s root structure is strong, so it can produce mint leaves year after year – so many of our 5th graders are harvesting from the same plants they did as kindergartners!

Rachel: Since it’s so easy to grow, it is usually one of the first things we put into our gardens, especially since it requires little maintenance and we can use it in so many recipes – including our rainbow cracker cakes, a student favorite, which feature fruit of different colors, mint, and Greek yogurt on top of a graham cracker.Garden School Foundation Mint Partnership for CAVA USC VillageWhat does aligning with CAVA on this specialty sourcing partnership mean for Garden School Foundation?  

Kathryn: We love sharing our garden and story with the community, and by bringing mint and herbs to CAVA, we are able to invite everyone to the same table to talk about local food systems, supporting farmers, and building more sustainable healthy food access for all. Gardens are based on community and need many hands to help them grow and share in the harvest.

Partnering with CAVA has been an amazing experience to share the story of our 3,000 little chefs and gardeners and to further the support of garden-based education for all.  

Rachel: Providing mint for the Watermelon Mint Juice is just another layer of a fabulous partnership. It’s even more exciting that this happens at USC. The university is our neighbor, but it’s also a big resource for the Garden School Foundation – providing interns, lecture opportunities, student volunteer groups, professors that teach about us in Food Justice classes, and so much more. We are excited to unite all three together using fresh herbs from the garden, where they can get a little ‘taste’ of the Garden School Foundation.Watermelon Mint Juice