Note from UC Cooperative Extension (UCCE) San Bernardino County Master Gardener Management:
By Elizabeth McSwain
There is something magical that happens when you enter a garden. The stress of the day goes away as you take in the beauty of a flower or plant. When my son Troy III and I visited our first community garden in 2017 it felt euphoric. UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener Valerie Dobesh was teaching a class on using herbs for medicinal purposes. We tasted the elderberry syrup she created, and I was hooked. Food can be medicine! After the workshop concluded I visited the info tables and that's when I met Master Gardener Program Coordinator Maggie O'Neill. I had so many questions and Maggie patiently answered many of them. I was intrigued by Maggie's professionalism, knowledge, and enthusiasm for the Master Gardener program. She inspired me to apply to the program and I am so very happy that I got accepted and that I get to interact with her throughout my gardening journey.
I didn't have a lot of gardening experience prior to becoming a UCCE San Bernardino County Master Gardener in October 2020. Our “Caramel Connections” nonprofit had a plot at a local garden and several of our volunteers facilitated organic gardening workshops. However, I did not feel knowledgeable enough to teach classes. I was part of the first Riverside Food Waste Ambassador training cohort. As part of the training, I visited my first landfill/recycling plant. After that visit, I was determined to decrease the amount of waste that my family and nonprofit would create moving forward. The UCCE Master Gardener vermicomposting training was interesting to me because it reinforced my belief that if I mastered this concept, I could help the community divert food waste from landfills.
I am excited about the opportunities ahead of us, and I cannot wait to see the garden flourish! Elizabeth McSwain showing first harvest vegetables at Seeds of Joy Community Garden Since I was a little girl, my mother Laureen instilled a joy of making food for the soul. She would make dishes that were always filled with fresh fruits and vegetables. Now alongside my husband, Troy II, our mutual passion for the culinary arts became a staple in our home as we raised our two sons, Alex and Troy III. It was in the kitchen while cooking and sharing meals together that our family bonded most - sparking unforgettable memories. Our love for food and serving the community compelled us to open Beola's Southern Cuisine in Ontario, CA.
Ultimately, we longed for families throughout the Inland Empire to experience the same joy for the culinary arts that we shared with our own family. In 2016, the McSwain's founded the Caramel Connections Foundation (CCF) to empower families throughout the Inland Empire to do just that. All CCF activities promote mental and physical wellness to help parents and their children discover the fun of healthy eating together. I began offering cooking classes and healthy beverage pairings at The San Bernardino Boys and Girls Club and Options House Transitional Homes. It was then that I quickly realized the needs of these families were much deeper.
Not only were they unaware of what healthy food options were available to them, but many of them also struggled with knowing where their next meal was coming from. I soon found that the health issues many parents and children were struggling with, such as high blood pressure and diabetes could be prevented if they knew how to make better food choices and where to access healthier options. Elizabeth
The Seeds of Joy Community Garden 1240 W. 4th Street, Ontario CA 91762, 909 697-9017, www.caramelconnections.org has conducted programs and held events to introduce Inland Empire families to a myriad of healthy activities, beverages, and meal options. CCF programs promote health, wellness, and education in the areas of physical fitness, mental wellness, literacy, organic gardening, nutrition, and combating health challenges such as
Other community service volunteer activities include:
• Abundant Living Family Church – Children's Ministry 2003-2007 • Healthy RC Steering & Compassionate Communities Committees 2015 – Present
• Caramel Connections Foundation 2016 – Present
• Black Chamber of Commerce Inland Empire
• Ontario Montclair YMCA (Board Member 2017 – 2020). The benefits of gardening stretch far beyond just the growing of food. Although growing your own food can help you eat healthier by forming the foundation of better food choices and thereby lead to a healthier lifestyle. We will be offering an extensive array of nutrition and cooking sessions here. But even deeper than that, the act of gardening offers physical activity which can lead to lower blood pressure, reduce stress, enhance mental well-being, and build self-confidence.