Has a complete stranger ever asked you “Quiere el jardín de las verduras orgánicas? Es gratis!” which should translate to “do you want an organic vegetable garden? It’s free!” If so, it could have been me, a young adult with images of vegetables on her shirt, a picture of two snazzy raised beds, a slight sunburn, and trying her best to communicate despite not knowing much Spanish. We probably met at Gilroy’s food pantry, a school, a community center, in front of Cal Fresh registration form, or at a local taquería where I was grabbing a horchata.
For many of the San Jose or Gilroy low-income residents in Valley Verde’s organic garden program, this was their exposure to the concept of growing organic vegetables at home. For me, this was my first time diving straight into the community, speaking a language I didn’t know to talk about organic gardens. Fast forward five months later and we built over 100 raised beds and created organic vegetable gardens for 53 homes, 2 schools, and 1 church. But of course, increasing access to fresh organic vegetables and developing community amongst residents takes more than building gardens just as growing a garden takes more than putting plants in the ground. That is why we hold classes once a month for these garden recipients to gain gardening skills or learn about nutrition. That is why parents make their kids eat a leaf of lettuce after I show them how to harvest it on monthly visits.
I see myself grow as a teacher when I show participants and their children (sometimes more excited than their parents) how to transplant seedlings into the soil. I see myself grow as a leader when I organize and delegate roles to volunteers to ensure a successful event and an effective impact. I see myself grow as a proctor for health when I tackle issues in people’s home gardens so they may enjoy eating zucchini and tomatoes because this will leave a tasty, lifelong positive impression of organic vegetables. I cannot reverse their diabetes, make the cost of organic vegetables equal to that of conventional vegetables, or place healthy options wherever there are unhealthy options for food but I can do what I can right now.
In a time and place where unhealthy food options are readily available, affordable, and advertised, we are a force for health, for sustainability, and for eating the vegetables of your labor.