Making healthy food choices is challenging for many reasons. There is certainly no shortage of information available about which foods to choose to ensure we get all the nutrients our bodies need. Here at HealthComU, we’ve covered everything from smart snacking to healthy options at fast food restaurants.
But often, the tips so readily available online assume two very important pieces of the puzzle: that the reader has access to healthy food options and that the reader can afford those healthy food options. For many, this simply isn’t the case. Add to that all the suggestions to eat organic foods, and it becomes even more difficult to eat recommended foods; according to a Consumer Reports study from 2015, organic foods are 47 percent more expensive than non-organic options.
Policy makers and community advocates have long touted farmer’s markets as “an important strategy in the efforts to bring affordable, healthy food options into low-income communities.” But just how to attract low-income shoppers to farmer’s markets continues to challenge those interested in enhancing urban and rural food access. For many, accessing a farmer’s market is no easier than accessing the grocery store, and although sometimes a more affordable option, farmer’s markets have also been criticized for having high and inconsistent prices.
But what if you brought the garden to the shopper?
The UC Master Gardener Program of Santa Clara County, a volunteer organization sponsored by the University of California Cooperative Extension (UCCE), aims to do just that. One program supported by the Master Gardner Program is the La Mesa Verde Program in San Jose, CA, a partnership with the Sacred Heart Community Service. The program, which launched in 2009, offers bilingual educational courses, and volunteers visit gardens at the families’ homes to provide guidance on growing vegetables. More than 100 families are currently participating in the program. Since its founding, La Mesa Verde has helped more than 500 families plant and grow gardens.
Taking a teach a man to fish approach, the La Mesa Verde Program helps members of the community plant and tend their own gardens. Every spring and fall, the Sacred Heart Community Service provides members with vegetable starts and seeds to plant in their own gardens. UCCE master gardeners hold demonstrations and training so that members in the program can learn how to plant the vegetables and how to tend to them as they grow. Topics of the educational sessions include soil health, seedling care, seasonal vegetables, beneficial insects, and pest management.
In turn, members of the program volunteer to help build gardens for new members, teach classes, and mentor new members, resulting in a true community atmosphere that provides more benefits than just fresh vegetables.
Summertime is the one season where everyone in the United States enjoys weather conducive to growing vegetables. Programs like the Master Gardener Program give the people most in need a little push to hopefully prepare them for a lifetime of healthy eating—from their own gardens!