Gardener harvesting eggplant

Seeds of Change
Story 57

The Edible Schoolyard Kern County serves its community with garden-fresh food and education that helps form the foundation for lifelong health.

Lynette Zielezny: It started with a faculty member, Professor Aaron Hegde, who did research on food and security here at Cal State, Bakersfield. What we learned is that a large percentage of our students are actually food insecure, and they don't know where their next healthy meal is coming from.

Kiyoshi Tomono: There's always been this kind of, it's almost a rite of passage, if you will, this idea that when you're in college, you don't have a lot of money, you've got to be starving, right? And you're going to have times where you can't afford food. I think that as an organization that's really interested in the health and well-being of our community and individuals, we need to say, "Well, maybe that's not okay."

Lynette Zielezny: The produce, as you notice today, because it's Wednesday and it's popup pantry day, so the produce is absolutely gorgeous. All of that produce comes to our food pantry, and our students that wait just seeing the surprise of what produce is offered to them, and they have recipes that are given to them, and they're so grateful to have this fresh food that really does provide wellness. It absolutely could not happen without the support of Adventist Health with the Grimm Family Foundation, who really came to support us with this idea.

Kiyoshi Tomono: Adventist Health wants to be more than just a healthcare company. We want to be a health company. I think we've realized over the last couple of years, especially with the pandemic, it gave us a chance to pause and reflect and realize how important well-being and wellness is to all Americans, as we're all kind of dealing with this kind of existential mortality moment, right? Healthcare, as the name implies, really is kind of, "Well, what do we do to help care for people that may not be healthy, but how do we get upstream of that?" We're not seeing you when you're having a heart attack or you're having a stroke, so that we don't see you when you're at that stage, but we can actually maintain your health and well-being. And that's where gardens and programs like this come in.

Dylan Wilson: The Edible Schoolyard Kern County is an advisor to the CSUB student affairs team. As they are managing the space, we're able to come onboard with them and help them with their strategic planting plans, their pest management plans, and get to help and support in any way possible that we can to continue to see this ground cultivated and flourishing for food production for the students.

Kiyoshi Tomono: When you look at the Grimm Family Education Foundation and their Edible Schoolyard programs, you can see already kind of the tentacles of the work that they're doing, and then how it could potentially be iterated and copied in other spaces. They have this program where they realize a lot of kids here in the bread basket of California, where we produce so much great product like fruits, vegetables and nuts, these kids are going home hungry, number one, which is a huge problem. Number two, not everyone's getting the baseline fundamental knowledge of where their food comes from and how to prepare healthy food. Teaching them from the very beginning, what does an eggplant look like? Things that I didn't even think about. Cauliflower, it actually is like a flower. It sounds silly and almost absurd, but we don't even think sometimes about where our food comes from.

The folks over at the Grimm Family Education Foundation approached us and said, "Hey, we really like this idea. What if we expanded this program and reiterated it in a different way, but still working really closely around student well-being?" They've already got some classes going around it, so the educational piece is great, too. It's not just food, handing out food. Because, we know from lots of past experience, handing out food baskets may not always be just the effective way, because people look at an eggplant and say, "What do I do with this?" You've got to do more than that. You've got to go even farther back upstream and say, "Okay, here's how you can make eggplant, and here's how that could be healthy and still taste good."

Dylan Wilson: My hope for this garden is that we can continue to see students from this campus benefit not only from the produce that comes out, but from the lessons that can be taught here on site. Getting to put their hands into the soil, getting to smell the flowers that are being grown adjacent to all these wonderful vegetables, they can be inspired by this space and by what happens at the food pantry and by the recipes that we're able to provide. They can take that home and have a life of wellness and continue to thrive and live happy.

Kiyoshi Tomono: This is just the beginning, I think. As we're going along this journey, especially over the next 10 years, we have this vision of making our communities well. This is a model that we can easily bring to other areas, and we can bring, potentially, right down the road. How do we bring elementary school students, perhaps, from this neighborhood over here to actually make this a learning space for them if they don't have access to a garden? It really is a privilege to know that we're working on projects that we may never see in the immediate five, ten years the impact of, but knowing that generationally, we may be able to have a huge impact. The saying is that you're planting seeds for a tree that you may never enjoy the shade of, but somebody down the road may be able to. It really is a privilege and honor to do this work.