Planting the seeds of good health in a North Hollywood shelter garden
Last Friday I had the opportunity to speak to a group of residents at the LA Family Housing, Valley Shelter in North Hollywood. We met outdoors amidst sprouting tomato plants, low-hanging loquats and variety of fruits and vegetables being grown in a beautiful garden setting.
It was not my first time visiting this tranquil North Hollywood shelter garden. I have come several times before to talk to the residents about nutrition, health and the importance of making smart food choices on a limited budget. I was due to return this spring to speak to the new residents who arrived since my last visit.
A Model of Success
This garden is not only producing an abundance of food for the residents of the shelter and the surrounding community, it has also served as a model of success for our UC CalFresh/ UC Master Gardener collaboration. Two highly motivated Master Gardener volunteers, Laurie Liles and Bettina Gatti, and an on-site garden manager, Richard Arpad, have regularly delivered UC CalFresh “Fresh from the Garden” lessons at this site for the past two years. The lessons have been well received by the shelter residents, many of whom enjoy the calming, therapeutic effect of spending time in the garden.
Nutrition Education in the Garden
I was invited to speak to the residents about making healthy food choices on a limited budget; an important, well-timed class for some individuals getting ready to transition out of the shelter. I delivered an abbreviated version of UC CalFresh’s newly adapted “Plan, Shop, Save & Cook” series. I came equipped with flyers from a local discount grocery store, and asked participants to plan a healthy meal using ingredients on sale. This activity spurred a lively discussion around preferred shopping habits and cooking techniques, and no one had any trouble planning a well-balanced, affordable meal. In fact, all of the meals sounded delicious, especially since we were leading up to the lunch hour!
I was also asked to bring back the ever-popular “rethink your drink” display. Residents were amazed by the high sugar content of their favorite beverages, and quickly made the connection between potential savings on sugary drinks and the healthy foods that could be purchased in their place. To bring home the message, the garden manager served water flavored with lemon and strawberries to demonstrate healthy alternatives to juices and sodas. The perfect beverage to enjoy on a warm, Southern California day!
Valuable Information to Last Lifetime
While at the garden, I was sure to recognize the great work being done by the garden manager and the Master Gardener volunteers. Due to the efforts of Richard Arpad, Laurie Liles and Bettina Gatti, residents at the LA Family Housing, Valley Shelter are learning how to grow their own food. This is an invaluable skill that has the potential to impact the diet and health of these individuals for a lifetime. The hard work and dedication of Richard, Laurie and Bettina is an inspiration to us all!