- Author: Chutima Ganthavorn
- Author: Andra Nicoli
UCCE and CFHL, UC collaborated with the Torres Martinez Native American community on health and wellness goals and increasing access to produce for 1,600 families, contributing to UC ANR's public values of safeguarding abundant, healthy food and developing an equitable society.
Native American communities have experienced historical trauma that has had devastating effects on health: Over 60 reservations across the United States are considered to be food deserts; Native American households are 400% more likely to experience food insecurity; they also experience 1.7 times the rate of diagnosed diabetes (15.0% compared with 8.6% for all U.S. adults) and endured a mortality rate 1.8 times higher than non-hispanic whites during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Building trust in communities that have experienced trauma takes time. Ongoing communication with local leaders and members is necessary to ensure that solutions to address health disparities are community-led and meet community needs.
How UC Delivers
The University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE) in Riverside County, in coordination with CalFresh Healthy Living, University of California (CFHL, UC), have been working collaboratively with the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indian Tribe since 2018 to advance sustainable community health initiatives that can foster positive health outcomes.
Since special project funding is often needed to allow flexibility in program implementation, the Nutrition, Family and Consumer Sciences Advisor has worked with the Torres Martinez Tribal Leadership and tribal grant department to acquire funding to pursue healthy community development. This collaboration has resulted in three grants focusing on different aspects of health activities:
1) USDA/CDSS through Public Health Institute to implement a tribal youth participatory action research (YPAR) project;
2) USDA Farm to School Planning Grant to explore a farm to school partnership with Coachella Valley Unified; and
3) CDC ACORNS funding from California Rural Indian Health Board (CRIHB) to facilitate discussions around tribal community's interest in food sovereignty.
These projects provided the tribe with resources from within UC, including a UCCE farm advisor, CFHL nutrition educators, a UC Davis Center for Regional Change trainer, and key partnerships with funding organizations to increase capacity and foster community engagement.
This multi-sector collaboration is generating interest in community health that leads to organizational behavior change:
1) The YPAR project engaged 11 youth ages 12-17 in an exploration of the community food environment and raised questions about low availability of healthy foods. The YPAR project contributed to the Tribe's decision to reinstate the Tribal Youth Council, which incorporates youth feedback in the design of community programs.
2) An intergenerational group of tribal members participated in the vegetable planting in the A'Avutem (elders) garden. Forty tribal members participated in the UCCE led farm tour, and over 20 youth participated in the CFHL, UCCE led education about farm to school. One tribal member remarked:
The tour made me see how the tribe can benefit from an organic farm and I see many opportunities especially for organic farming which will play an important role in agriculture of the future.
3) During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Tribal Council led efforts to increase access to healthy food by distributing 1,600 USDA Farmers to Families Produce Boxes to 400 tribal families and the surrounding community. Finally, the Tribe has recently formed a 9-member Community Wellness Committee to guide the ACORNS project.