- Author: Ricardo A. Vela
The CalFresh Healthy Living, UC Program, administered through UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE), works with ethnic communities to transform their environment by implementing a community garden. UCCE created three gardens in partnership with community organizations in an equal number of neighborhoods located in this populous county.
In the first one, adults and minors dug and planted seeds and various vegetable plants in a community garden located in Riverside's popular Latino neighborhood. The vegetable garden has brought people in this low-resource community together to address healthy food access and learn about healthy eating and nutrition.
Gonzalo Rodríguez, an active member of the Community Settlement Association, said, "We planted pepper plants, tomatoes and little seeds. Vegetables are an excellent food for us, and another thing that keeps children off the streets and helps them understand the process while having fun taking care of their plants."
The garden in this thriving Latino community has grown over the years and is now a place for families to get together to celebrate healthy living. Educating food-insecure families of different ethnicity, the importance of having a vegetable garden, and how to grow your own food is a goal of the CalFresh Healthy Living, UC Program, and UCCE in Riverside County.
The second garden is located on what used to be a vacant lot in the Riverside Faith Temple under Pastor Duane Sims' supervision, who spoke about his vision. "I would like to see it a complete food force, a source of food that won't cost anybody anything, and something for people that don't have anything to do, a place to put their hands in the dirt and accomplish something."
These community gardens collaborate with several programs from the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources and partner with ethnic organizations to combat the poor eating habits that result in obesity, chronic diseases, and sometimes premature death.
"We're trying to get low-income families to eat more vegetables, and the best way to do this is to encourage them to plant their own fruits and vegetables in an orchard, and that's why we're promoting community gardens," said Chutima Ganthavorn, UCCE nutrition specialist in Riverside County.
Adela Torres and her children are involved in the project with the Community Settlement Association in Riverside. "It's beneficial for the children because they are fresh fruits or things that we can have at home," she said.
Ganthavorn reaffirmed the UCCE and CalFresh Healthy Living, UC's commitment to helping ethnic communities live a healthier diet. "We know that many people's diets today are fast food and soft drinks, and they are not consuming fruits and vegetables. We need to eat almost nine portions of fruits and vegetables a day, and most of us aren't getting close to that level. We are trying to encourage the consumption of fruits and vegetables, especially vegetables because they contain many nutrients and many health benefits," she said.
In the spring of 2020, UC Agriculture and Natural Resources' Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) and the CalFresh Healthy Living, UC (CFHL UC) Program faced the unprecedented experience of shelter-in-place and school closures due to COVID-19. Both federal nutrition education programs relied on in-person contact by UC Cooperative Extension nutrition education staff as a means of building and sustaining relationships with community members, stakeholders and partners serving vulnerable populations.
CFHL UC and EFNEP state office staff, in collaboration with the Center for Nutrition in Schools, reacted quickly to serve their clientele's needs. The coordinated effort of state office teams resulted in the dissemination of a staff needs assessment, which culminated in the training of over 150 educators and supervisors to quickly pivot lessons for online and distance learning. State staff and educators began designing online curricula delivery models to re-engage students, creating a library of virtual lessons with distance-learning strategies. This included using Zoom, social media platforms such as Facebook Live and YouTube, and learning platforms such as Google Classroom. To provide quality assurance, reach and outcome measures also began undergoing adaptation for this new learning environment.
Examples of new remote learning capabilities include:
More than 60 online lessons under development for children pre-kindergarten through 8th grade that emphasize healthy eating, active living and gardening.
CalFresh Healthy Living, UCCE county programs are developing the online delivery of five adult curricula, including UC-developed Plan, Shop, Save and Cook and Making Every Dollar Count that provide food resource management tips, as well as ideas for how to stay active and purchase healthy food on a limited budget. These lessons are particularly valuable at this time of high unemployment.
EFNEP's Technology and Social Media Plan includes a pilot of ‘blended learning' using mail, phone and video chat for our UCCE Connects to You Series. CFHL UC also utilizes mailings and phone call follow-ups with this curriculum.
Further, CFHL UC educators are offering lessons and short educational segments online, maintaining school gardens, working at food banks (with the permission of local county directors) and, in partnership with school meal programs, offering complimentary nutrition education and physical activity take-home lessons and resources to students and families at meal pick up locations. Youth engagement projects continue to engage student leaders online through Youth-Led Participatory Action Research (YPAR) projects.
In response to COVID-19, the EFNEP and CFHL UC state and county staff continue to build and enhance the skills of our educators while serving California's most vulnerable communities. These efforts are critical to maintain trusted relationships, which both programs successfully established over decades of service to promote healthy people and communities in California.
- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
To plant the seed of healthful eating among youngsters, UC Cooperative Extension is giving away vegetable plants to Oakland families with school children.
On Thursday, May 7, CalFresh Healthy Living, UC staff will give tomato and basil seedlings to Oakland parents who come to pick up food for their children at West Oakland Middle School. The team will also be giving away plants again at Elmhurst United Middle School on May 14 and at Bret Hart Middle School on May 21. The plants are being donated by the UC Master Gardener Program of Alameda and Contra Costa counties.
“Gardening activities can help increase children's interest in eating fresh fruits and vegetables and improve their understanding of the health benefits and major nutrients found in the plants grown,” said Tuline Baykal, program supervisor of the CalFresh Healthy Living, UC team in Alameda County.
UCCE Master Gardeners are donating 100 tomato plants in 1-gallon pots for the giveaway on Thursday. The seedlings are in paper bags with planting instructions in six languages: English, Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean and Arabic.
The plants were part of the annual plant sale normally held in April to raise funds for the UC Master Gardener Program of Contra Costa County, which is funded primarily by revenue generated by the plant sale and donations. The sale, which attracts thousands of gardening enthusiasts, was canceled due to COVID-19 safety concerns.
“We didn't want the plants to go to waste, we wanted to get them out into the community,” said Dawn Kooyumjian, UC Master Gardener Program coordinator.
“Rather than compost the plants at this time of heightened interest in home vegetable gardening and food security, we saw an opportunity to connect with Oakland Unified School District through the UC Master Gardeners of Alameda County School Garden Support Team, which supports gardens in Title 1 schools by mentoring teachers, parents and Food Corps volunteers.”
In past weeks, they gave away tomato plants at Sankofa Academy, which serves children in preschool through fifth grade.
UC Master Gardener volunteer Devra Laner coordinated with OUSD to distribute plants at the meal giveaways.
“Six to eight Oakland school gardens are being opened up this week,” Kooyumjian said. “UC Master Gardeners will be donating some tomato plants to these school gardens and FoodCorps Service members will be harvesting the garden produce to donate to food distribution centers.”
In addition to the plants being given away to Oakland families, the UC Master Gardener Program in Contra Costa County has donated 30,000 plants to 48 community and school gardens in the Bay Area. They also provided plants to local nurseries that could not keep up with the current demand for gardening supplies that COVID-19 has created.
“Typically, our plant sale takes in $85,000 or more. Because of COVID-19, we turned the Great Tomato Sale into what our gardeners call ‘Our Great Tomato Share' to support our underserved community,” said Frank McPherson, director of UC Cooperative Extension for the Bay Area.