Day 1 of the #SowChange tour

The first day of the Women’s Foundation of California’s Sowing Change 2010 tour began in Bakersfield, and continued to Wasco, McFarland, Pixley, and Kettleman City. Read a past post about the tour here.

  • Stop 1: Wasco

If you have ever wanted to see how various polluting industries could have cumulative health impacts, you only need to travel to Wasco, a Kern County city of 24,724 people that was the first stop on the Women’s Foundation of California’s Sowing Change tour.

In Wasco, we met a group of women who are part of el Comité de las Rosas (Rose Committee,) named, in part, to recognize Wasco’s designation as the rose capital of the country.

The women live in a 250-unit labor camp, which is located across the street from a coal plant. It’s located a few blocks away from a facility that produces bio-pesticides, and the women said a “fishy” smell is always wafting from the factory.

They live steps from the railroad tracks; children cross the tracks to go to school, and mothers push baby carriages across the tracks to do their shopping.

But what’s neat about Wasco – and so many of the other Valley communities we visited on the tour – is that the residents are joining together to create change. One woman from the committee is now a leader on the city’s housing board, and another told us about the possibility of  establishing an organic farming cooperative in Wasco.

  • En route to Pixley:

On the way to Pixley, Earlimart resident Teresa De Anda described how her small community was poisoned during a pesticide drift incident in 1999. Since then, De Anda has become an unstoppable and indefatigable champion for pesticide reform.

She pointed out the sign above, which was situated near a group of workers picking and bagging grapes.

  • Stop 2: Pixley

As I’ve reported before, Pixley – an unincorporated Tualre County community of 2,586 people, 68.2 percent of who are Latino - is an amazing example of how a community can band together to create healthier environments.

Pixley has long been considered a food desert, because residents have very limited access to fresh and affordable fruits and vegetables. In response to that situation, a group of families helped establish a community garden at the local school.

One Pixley resident told us about the advantages of planting and harvesting her own fruits and vegetables in the community garden: She saves money on produce; she doesn’t have to buy expensive, poor-quality fruits and veggies; and she and her family get physical exercise while working together in the garden.

After hearing about the community garden, as well as the local youth folkloric dance group, Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers, declared Pixley to be “an oasis” among San Joaquín Valley communities.

“I think this is just remarkable,” she said of the residents’ collaborative efforts to make their community a healthier place for their families.

I tweeted throughout the Sowing Change tour. If you don’t follow me on Twitter (@HarvestHealth,) you can catch up on the tweets here.

Planting the seeds of health

“Who will be the driving force for a garden at your school?”

That is one question filmmaker Robert Lee Grant poses toward the end of his thought-provoking 31-minute film, ‘Nourishing the Kids of Katrina – The Edible Schoolyard.’

The award-winning film documents how a community garden helped revitalize a New Orleans school after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. In the 1/3-acre organic garden – (there is a similar one in Berkeley, and both are spearheaded by  Alice Waters) – low-income children stick their hands in the dirt and nurture and harvest crops. They learn to cook the fruits and vegetables they’ve grown, and connect their garden experiences to their academic courses.

It’s not hard to imagine edible schoolyards sprouting up across the San Joaquín Valley. In fact, many people said during a community discussion following the screening, we need community gardens to be incorporated into school curriculums.

For starters, the Valley has a rich tradition of agriculture, and the gardens could honor that. The Valley is home to so many diverse cultures and languages, and this could be reflected in the crops grown in school gardens, and the tools used in them, Grant said in a recent interview.

But beyond that, Valley families need the health education the gardens could provide.

As Edie Jessup of the Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program reminded the audience before the film was screened last Thursday night, Valley residents suffer from serious poverty, hunger, obesity, and chronic health issues. So many people live in rural areas and work in agriculture, but don’t have access to region’s bountiful produce, she said.

In the school gardens, young Valley children would grow fruits and vegetables. They would get exercise from working in the garden, gain a connection to the land, and cultive relationships with their classmates. Valley kids would harvest their fruits and vegetables, and then learn to enjoy eating and cooking with them.

  • Just those simple steps could help create healthy habits for the kids, who would pass them on to their families. Over a lifetime, those healthy habits could help curb the alarming rate of childhood obesity in the Valley.

As Waters is known to say: “if they grow it, they’ll eat it.” Or as another public health expert said, “healthy choices should be easy, and unhealthy choices should be hard.”

So, who will be the driving force for an edible schoolyard in our community? Some communities – like Pixley, in Tulare County – have already planted the seeds of garden projects. But how do we turn these community gardens into a movement?

People could start by reaching out to their local schools and school boards. Grant says it’s easier to implement an edible schoolyard curriculum at charter schools, like Samuel J. Green in New Orleans – but they can be added to public schools, too.

For proof, Valley residents just need to look to Stockton, where Grant is in discussions about creating a community garden at Wilhelmina Henry Elementary School. Grant said a congressman and the local farm bureau are already behind the effort.

During an interview, Grant compared the healthy foods movement to the civil rights movement, in terms of how quickly its gaining momentum. Will you join the nutritious food scene, and ensure that all kids in their families have access to healthy foods, which will lead to healthier lives?

Photo taken by Daniel Cásarez in Pixley.