- Author: Jeannette E. Warnert
Nutrition education has stretched into a garden at a Fresno facility where women are putting their lives back together.
The UC Cooperative Extension UC CalFresh nutrition education program in Fresno offers its five-week series “Plan, Shop, Save and Cook" at Rescue the Children, a residential program where women who were abused, homeless, previously incarcerated or faced other challenging life circumstances stay for 18 months to learn life and job skills, plus nurture their spirituality.
Rescue the Children is a program offered by the Fresno Rescue Mission. Women with young children or without are referred by such agencies as child protective services, the county probation office and courts. The women make a personal commitment to stay for a year and a half.
“We're not a shelter where they come and go,” said Priscilla Robbins, Rescue the Children director. “We're a ministry.”
Rescue the Children is a safe place for women to get away from destructive lifestyles, where they can heal, learn, grow and become productive members of society.
UC CalFresh reaches out to a variety of community programs and schools with nutrition, garden and physical activity education to teach recipients of CalFresh (formerly called food stamps) and those who are eligible for CalFresh how to make safe, healthful and budget-friendly dietary and cooking decisions. CalFresh benefits – which are part of USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – can be used to buy food, edible garden transplants and vegetable seeds.
During a nutrition education session last year, one Rescue the Children resident asked whether an unplanted garden area in the facility could be restored to grow vegetables, said Nancy Zumkeller, UC CalFresh nutrition educator. As a UC Cooperative Extension program, it was easy to connect with the UC Master Gardeners and collaborate to provide garden and nutrition education.
Several Master Gardener volunteers and the UC CalFresh garden team provided classroom gardening training and worked with the women to clear weeds, update irrigation, and sow seeds and transplants in four raised-bed plots.
The Master Gardeners donated gardening books to the Rescue the Children library, including the Master Gardener Handbook, a definitive guide to environmentally sound gardening practices with chapters on soil, fertilizer and water management, home vegetable gardening, and detailed information on number of specific garden crops.
As part of their structured schedule of classes, work, meals and Bible study, the women spend one hour each Wednesday working in the garden, a time that residents have come to relish.
“Aunty Shirley had a garden in Madera,” said Debriana*. “I would go and help her. It's a soothing process.”
Adriana said she values her new gardening knowledge.
“This is a great experience for learning the skills for outside life,” she said. “It will be a complete transformation from where we came from.”
Resident Darcy has lived at the facility for nine months, and been involved with the garden for six months' time.
“It's nice to watch things grow. It feels successful,” she said. “You plant all this stuff and there's nothing there. You come out a couple weeks later and, oh my gosh, my box is growing all this stuff. It's very cool to be able to learn these tools. When we go out on our own and have our own place, we can grow our own fruits and vegetables.”