- Author: Mike Hsu
CalFresh Healthy Living, UC and UC Master Gardeners partner with nonprofit MORE in El Dorado County
A nonprofit serving adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities in El Dorado County, MORE has found kindred spirits in helping their clients live fuller and healthier lives – the staff and volunteers of University of California Master Gardeners and CalFresh Healthy Living, UC.
Since 2018, these programs – both affiliated with UC Agriculture and Natural Resources – have helped enrich the lives of about 60 clients at MORE, which offers services ranging from independent-living skills development to job training and placement.
“This is exactly the kind of partnership that we like to make with the community,” said MORE CEO Susie Davies, who has been with the Placerville-based organization for 40 years. “This has just been incredible; our people have learned above and beyond what we could even have imagined in nutrition and gardening.”
The three-party partnership, which Davies calls a “win-win-win,” offers a course that combines gardening and nutrition lessons, as well as a new cooking and food safety-focused class developed by educator Cailin McLaughlin in collaboration with MORE staff.
During one session, MORE clients enjoyed preparing a “plant part salad,” following a botanical lesson on the edible components of plants – fruits, roots, leaves, seeds and stems. “It was fun to cut the celery and broccoli,” said Jared (first names are used to protect privacy). “I like pouring the sauce in.”
“I liked everything about creating the salad,” said Deanne, another participant.
“MORE is the dream site, the best you could ever hope to go to, with the programming and the clients always being lovely and really just being down for anything,” said McLaughlin, a CalFresh Healthy Living nutrition educator at the Central Sierra UC Cooperative Extension office. “It's just a really cool place to be.”
CalFresh Healthy Living, UC is one of the organizations in California that teaches nutrition to people eligible for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). UC Davis administers the SNAP-Ed grant and UC Cooperative Extension educators deliver the lessons throughout the state.
‘Part of our MORE family'
Through the gardening and nutrition program, clients learn and apply their skills in the garden and greenhouse at the MORE facility and in the nearby Sherwood Demonstration Garden maintained by UC Master Gardeners of El Dorado County.
“The participants get a chance to harvest, plant, pull weeds and learn about integrated pest management, both in the vegetable garden and in the orchard,” said Tracy Celio, the local UC Master Gardeners program manager who worked with former CalFresh Healthy Living, UCCE educator Miranda Capriotti to develop the program.
“It's a very good program,” said Tony, a MORE client. “I can learn things.”
While experiencing the pride in bringing fresh produce to their home or to the MORE kitchen for use in the meal service, the clients are also taking away nutritious and healthy recipes. Jordan Postlewait, director of community access programs at MORE, said participants now know how to use ingredients from the garden to create dishes such as tomato salsa and fruit salad.
“They've taken the recipes that Cailin has given them and they go home and serve their whole group home what we had made for a snack,” Postlewait said. “They are paying attention to what they're eating.”
As a result of this awareness and knowledge of nutritious foods, Davies said that MORE clients are healthier, more energized and alert, and ready to learn. She is quick to credit the expertise and enthusiasm of McLaughlin, CalFresh Healthy Living, UCCE program coordinator Mariana Garcia, and the UC Master Gardeners staff and volunteers.
“They have the same dedication and commitment to excellence in their preparation for every session as our staff,” Davies said. “They just became part of our MORE family.”
“I like seeing Cailin and Tracy and all the staff who are my friends,” said Kenion, a MORE client.
Cooking lessons create possibilities for kitchen time, jobs
In April, two groups, each composed of six people, began participating in a new five-session course combining nutrition, food safety and basic cooking techniques. Each two-hour session included a nutrition lesson, a physical activity and time in MORE's commercial kitchen.
“It was fun getting in the kitchen and learning how to prepare my own meals,” Jared said. “I learned how to safely use a small skillet.”
Another participant, Kyle, said he uses the recipes to cook for his roommates. “I liked learning new cooking skills and recipes,” he said.
McLaughlin adapted a youth-oriented healthy eating curriculum, approved for use by CalFresh Healthy Living, UC, and tailored it for adults at MORE.
“The whole goal is to get them closer to an independent living circumstance, where either they can live in a group facility or have their own apartment – and knowing how to cook and identify healthy recipes is a huge component of that,” McLaughlin explained.
The guided kitchen experiences – and equipment like plastic safety knives – not only benefit the participants but also give their family members reassurance and confidence to include them in meal preparation.
“We've actually been asked by staff at MORE, and also by clients' parents, where we got the knives, because they would like to have their family member in the kitchen with them, if they can do it safely,” McLaughlin said. “They didn't know things like safety knives existed; they didn't know you could adapt a silicone food guard to keep them from burning themselves on a burner.”
In addition to enhancing the clients' family time, the cooking lessons could also set them up for future employment. Davies said she is in talks with a local chef about establishing a culinary training for the clients.
“This cooking program could be a preparation program for them to be involved in the culinary training program,” she said. “That's what we're really excited about.”
McLaughlin added that, for future sessions of the cooking and food-safety series, past participants have expressed interest in serving as kitchen aides and mentors.
Partners nurture clients' relationships with nature, community
Empowering clients with new skills and fostering a sense of ownership of the garden are both cornerstones of the partnership programs. Beginning in 2019, participants from MORE each adopted a tree in the Sherwood Demonstration Garden orchard to monitor and nurture.
“Almost every time they come to the garden, we check those fruit trees,” Celio said. “The trees are doing so many things throughout the year, so they're following the cycle: they watch the leaves drop; they watch the fruit come in; they see what a freeze does to their tree; they see what pests do to their tree.”
The participants experience the challenges of gardening – from managing rabbits and squirrels to coping with the loss of a pear tree due to disease – as well as its many joys.
“I liked seeing the butterflies and different plants; the butterflies drink from the bushes,” said Jen, a MORE client. “My favorite thing is the rose garden.”
At the same time, the clients have built strong relationships with the core group of UC Master Gardener volunteers and the dozen or so “vegetable garden crew” volunteers. Celio stressed that the garden programs, which were recently recognized by the statewide UC Master Gardeners program with a Search for Excellence Award, are truly collaborative.
MORE participants often bring their own ideas; one man, for example, became interested in composting and worked with MORE staff to establish a worm bin at the MORE facility garden.
“Every time I see that client, he will tell me how the worms were doing and he'll tell me how healthy the plants are that are growing next to the worm bin,” Celio said, adding that he also worked at a table during a MORE fair, teaching other clients and their family members about vermiculture.
Advocating for the greater good of the community is central to another CalFresh Healthy Living, UC collaborative project at MORE, in partnership with Stanford University's Our Voice initiative. Using an online tool and app, 12 clients have been taking photos and sharing feedback on their health and wellness experience at MORE, specifically about their walking trail. With that information, they are building a case to make the path safer and more enjoyable.
Responding to their feedback, along with the other partnership programs that are building vital skills and community, demonstrate to MORE's clients that they are appreciated and respected.
“The request from the people that we serve is that they want to be seen, they want to be heard, and they want to be valued by other community members,” Davies said. “And this is really showing them that they are valued and being seen and heard.”/h3>/h3>/h3>/h3>
- Author: Mike Hsu
After harvesting and cooking their produce, students ask for seconds of kale
How do you get notoriously finicky sixth graders to eat their leafy greens? Have them grow the vegetables themselves.
Students in Riverside have that unique opportunity through a hands-on gardening and nutrition class at Ysmael Villegas Middle School, with help from CalFresh Healthy Living, University of California Cooperative Extension Riverside County (a part of UC Agriculture and Natural Resources).
“We have middle schoolers asking for seconds and thirds of kale – that's not something that's typical!” said Claudia Carlos, program supervisor for CalFresh Healthy Living, UCCE Riverside, which implements SNAP-Ed locally (the educational arm of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps).
Growing and tending kale, mint and snap peas in two wheelbarrow gardens on the Villegas campus, the second cohort of students capped their 12-week class with a cooking lesson. A simple recipe combining their kale with tomatoes, onions and coconut milk was a big hit.
“It's one thing to tell youth they should eat healthy, but not until they actually grow the food do they actually take a lot of pride in that food they've grown and harvested,” Carlos explained.
By the end of this school year, about 75 students (in three cohorts) will have taken the class, during which they explore career pathways in gardening, agriculture and nutrition – while cultivating new skills and healthy habits such as choosing nutritious snacks and incorporating exercise into their day. Techniques developed by the UC help encourage effective behavior change.
“In this exploratory class, I've learned how to plant, and take care of plants,” wrote one student, in evaluating the class. “I can use these skills later on in life most likely, and I also learned how to be more healthy.”
Teachers observed that other students also have taken steps to apply their new skills and knowledge.
“They become more confident in themselves and their abilities to make healthy choices for themselves and their families – and to advocate for their parents to buy that kale and actually eat it,” said Daisy Valdez, community education specialist for CalFresh Healthy Living, UCCE Riverside, who is helping teach the class.
Valdez also has been training Villegas teacher Kim Weiss, so that Weiss – a first-year full-time teacher – is empowered to teach future cohorts. Both Valdez and Weiss noticed that nearly all of the youth have been enthusiastic about getting their hands in the soil, watering and weeding regularly – even taking care of the “worm hotel.”
“Students are very invested in the plants, how they are doing and their well-being,” Weiss said. “They ask if they can come back to the class and help care for the plants and worms; students worry about who will take care of the plants and worms after they leave.”
In addition to basic gardening and cooking skills, the class also incorporates lessons about herbs and spices, beneficial insects and pollinators, and cultural dimensions of food. The kale cooking lesson, which recently took place during Black History Month, presented a chance to teach about African food and culinary traditions.
“It allows them to not just connect to the garden but also to connect to their peers and to connect to the world around them,” said Valdez, who added that the garden, planted in a pair of cheerful red wheelbarrows, also beautifies the campus and sparks conversations among their schoolmates about food systems.
The Villegas partnership with CalFresh Healthy Living, UCCE Riverside also benefits the entire school in other ways, with programs reaching hundreds of students and community members. In spring 2021, under Valdez's supervision, students created a “food access board” that shows how to obtain healthy and affordable food through CalFresh EBT, farmers markets, WIC and other resources.
The board, which has been set up in the library, cafeteria and lobby, is seen and used by students and family members. Valdez also engaged parents and the broader community by hosting gardening and nutrition workshops.
This year, Villegas students will have the opportunity to further deepen their cultural connections through a new Youth Participatory Action Research project, in which they explore their personal and family histories through the lens of a meaningful and healthy food item, practice or tradition. Youth will then share their findings with school peers and administrators.
As Carlos noted, these young people will not forget such engaging and immersive experiences with food any time soon. In their evaluations, many students wrote that they learned valuable lessons about compost, care for plants and insects, and healthy eating.
And, as one sixth grader said: “I also learned that kale and coconut milk is amazing!”
- Author: Pamela Kan-Rice
This is the third story in our #NationalWellnessMonth series. See the second story, UCCE promotes nature as a way to improve wellness.
Youth up to 17 years of age who have been arrested or adjudicated for breaking the law are housed at juvenile detention facilities. In Sonora, while the young people are being detained, the staff at Mother Lode Regional Juvenile Detention Facility strive to create a safe environment for the residents to make positive changes in their lives.
To teach the youths about the food system, JoLynn Miller, UC Cooperative Extension's 4-H youth development advisor for Tuolumne County, and volunteers began visiting weekly in 2016 to help the residents develop a garden at the detention facility. With grants from a local community group, the youths have learned how to grow their own vegetables and prepare them to eat.
“The youth enjoy the educational aspect of the 4-H program and are excited whenever we harvest a new vegetable,” Edgar Ortega, juvenile corrections officer, wrote in a letter. “When the vegetables are ready, some of the youth along with the help and supervision of the staff make a new culinary experience for their peers.”
Bonnie Plants donated tomato, garlic, fava bean, onion and basil seedlings. Miller trained volunteers who work with youth at the facility in the same positive youth-development concepts that 4-H volunteers use in 4-H club activities.
“The youth planned and built the raised beds using power drills,” Miller said, acknowledging that it is rare for power tools to be allowed for use by residents in a detention facility. “They worked with the correctional officers to install drip irrigation in the garden.”
At the end of last season, Miller gave the residents a cooking lesson using green tomatoes and basil from the garden. “We made fried green tomatoes and pesto,” she said.
“We sincerely appreciate the efforts 4-H volunteers provide to enrich the lives of all youth in our community,” said Dan Hawks, chief probation officer in Sonora. “Not only do these projects provide real-world, hands-on instruction and skills to incarcerated youth, but it also provides them with an opportunity to reap the rewards of their own efforts. There is no lesson that can match the sense of accomplishment youth realize when they are able to harvest and consume crops they planted and tended themselves.”
In addition to teaching the residents gardening and cooking, Miller provided their teacher and staff with other 4-H curriculum, including mindfulness.
“The mindfulness program helps the youth develop coping skills and become more cognitively aware of themselves and their surroundings,” Ortega said in his letter. “The youth are open-minded about the different techniques and lessons of the program and, at times, I catch them practicing the different mindfulness technique on their own. I know the mindfulness program is great for our youth because in their own home environments they don't always have a role model to teach them proper coping skills.”
The garden wasn't an instant success. Using seeds Miller found in the UC Cooperative Extension office, their first lesson was persistence despite delayed satisfaction. “We tried for two summers to grow in the garden beds and not even zucchini would grow. The placement was bad,” she said. The plants needed more sun.
The 4-H advisor and the youths began seeking funding to buy supplies for the project. With some coaching from Miller, the youths applied for a grant from Farms of Tuolumne County, which advertised a total of $1,500 to be split between awardees.
“The youth came up with a budget to build the beds of their dreams, but it was $2,200,” Miller said. “They asked for it anyway, knowing they may only get enough money to build one bed.” Because residents are not allowed to leave the juvenile correctional facility, the Farms of Tuolumne County Board of Directors visited the facility to hear the teenagers present their vision for the garden project. Impressed, the board gave them the full $2,200 requested.
“The Farms of Tuolumne County Board of Directors admires the enthusiasm of the young people who are part of this garden project, the dedication of the staff, and the hard work and commitment of JoLynn Miller,” said Marian Zimmerly, FOTC chief financial officer. “The board believes this project can be a positive influence on the young people who find themselves in the facility. FOTC is honored to lend its support.”
Like many community groups, Farms of Tuolumne County is suffering financially during the coronavirus pandemic, yet approved another $750 for the garden and other 4-H agriculture projects at Mother Lode Regional Juvenile Detention Facility, saying, “The FOTC Board of Directors continues to view the garden project at the Juvenile Detention Center as very worthy of support.”
The residents have expressed their appreciation to the 4-H program. “Thx for everything you showed us,” one resident wrote to Miller and her 4-H volunteers. “I've learned a lot since I first got here. I learned how to farm, make compose [sic] and a whole other bunch of stuff. I was never really interested in gardening until I came here. I really wanna learn more about gardening.”
Despite the constraints caused by the pandemic, Miller plans to continue the 4-H partnership with Mother Lode Regional Juvenile Correctional Facility on the garden project and other agricultural educational activities.
As the pandemic began, Miller was given permission to use Zoom to deliver embryology lessons and science experiments using eggs. She is projected onto a big screen in a meeting room while the officer on duty walks around the room with an iPad, using its camera and microphone to connect her with the students at different tables doing experiments such as egg dissection and testing egg strength.
She was allowed to bring five-week-old chicks into the facility to let the youth see, touch and hold them as a capstone to the project. Miller plans to continue meeting with the youths via Zoom to discuss projects and drop off approved project supply kits for them to use.
“We'd like to finalize a project we started last fall where we brought in baby goats,” Miller said. “They've since been harvested, and we want to have our UC Cooperative Extension nutrition, family, consumer sciences advisor Katie Johnson provide a nutrition lesson with the residents making goat tacos.”
As time permits, officers take the youths outside to water plants and harvest crops in the garden.
“I feel the programs and workshops provided by 4-H services are a priceless resource to the youth of our facility,” wrote William Neilsen, senior juvenile corrections officer. “It allows us to diversify programming and provide hands-on and -off educational opportunities within our facility that teach the youth about agricultural resources otherwise unavailable to the youth here. These programs inherently teach the youth responsibility and life skills and the youth gain a wealth of knowledge from these services.
“Additionally, I strongly believe there is a therapeutic resource provided to staff and youth alike. As we progress forward, I am happy and excited in the continued partnership we have with the UCCE 4-H program of Tuolumne County.”
Ortega added, “4-H provides the youth an opportunity to develop life skills that will transition to their own home environments.”