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How Growing Sustainably is Growing

Author: Nancy Nguyen, Public Ally and CommUniverCity Project Coordinator

Silicon Valley is expanding and urbanizing at an exponential rate as the tech industry gears up to be one of the most powerful entities in the country, leading to the boom of high paying tech jobs, housing development, and business and commercial development. However, as prices of housing and food skyrocket to follow this activity, low-income communities of color, such as those in the neighborhoods of Central San Jose—who do not fall in the tech bracket—are left behind, especially when facing challenges such as housing crises and food insecurity.

With a mission to build healthy neighborhoods in San Jose, CommUniverCity’s Growing Sustainably Program creates impact in the community through the future of the community–its youth. Growing Sustainably, which is funded by the Open Space Authority, encompasses 4 sub-projects: Garden Education, Gardening Club and Cooking Matters. At McKinley Elementary, San Jose State University interns teach Garden Education to 6th grade students, using outdoor science as additional learning complementary to the traditional classroom subjects of math and writing. Gardening Club at Horace Mann Elementary and McKinley Elementary teaches students Grade 3-5 basic horticultural skills and garden-based science to help foster an appreciation of the outdoors in an urban setting. Cooking Matters supplements this experience as a class which teaches students Grades 3-5 the value of nutrition and learning how and when to choose healthy food options.

The fight against food insecurity begins when people care about the foods they put into their bodies. It begins when children start to be cognizant of the healthy choices they can make and why they are willing to make them. In providing space for children to learn and think about the importance of growing their own food and choosing healthy options, children gain the agency to make a difference in their own lives and in the larger communities to which they belong. The program recognizes this and looks for creative ways to bring green into children’s homes, such as making biodegradable newspaper pots for planting herbs. Some kids even wanted to make 3 or 4 pots to bring home! Students are also excited to share what they learned with family at home, saving extra helpings of a meal they made to share with family at home. Our students are as diverse as the community they come from, but we try to bring them together to share in the appreciation of good and healthy foods. While some students emphasize, “I’ve done this before!” and “my family eats healthy all the time,” others are able to fully enjoy a first time experience because they go from “I never get to cook at home” to “I look like a chef now, don’t I?”

Growing Sustainably grows and develops with the students. While technology can contribute to the chronic disease epidemic threatening the world, it is an essential part of our lives and can be adapted for positive change. For example, this semester, Garden Education 6th grade students are given the chance to play an online farm simulation game, Cal Academy’s Cornucopia. Although the activity was virtual, it helped the students understand the how water works as a resource and its connotations in a larger environmental sphere. Understanding the impact of the different kinds of food stuffs can impact food decisions. While this understanding can start at the individual level, effectiveness can increase when it grows and travels from person to community to society. Planting seeds both literally and figuratively, Growing Sustainably works to serve as many of the community’s children as possible in positively impacting their health.

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