“We see the garden as a vehicle for social change...It helps to know you are connected and part of something.”
In the face of local food insecurity, Sacred Heart Community Service is providing families with a sustainable source of fresh, nutritious food through their Authority-funded home gardening project, La Mesa Verde.
Sacred Heart Community Service, a San Jose-based organization, offers a wide variety of programs to support low-income families and individuals in high-cost Silicon Valley. Through these programs, Sacred Heart Community Services provides everything they need to get back on their feet, including food, clothing, childcare, educational services, parent support groups, and even emergency housing and energy payment support.
One such program, La Mesa Verde (LMV, The Green Table), began in 2009 as a way to promote a sustainable source of fresh food for participants who often live in neighborhoods where fresh food is either unavailable or too expensive. The program provides supplies for participants to set up two raised garden beds with seasonally-appropriate plants and drip irrigation systems.
After the garden is set up, students participate in an 11-month educational program that includes monthly group classes that cover topics like garden skills, home composting, and preserving the harvest. New participants are paired with an experienced mentor (either a more senior program participant or a volunteer with the Master Gardeners of Santa Clara County), who checks in with them at home and provides advice and ongoing motivation.
Each year the program engages 125 active households and feeds more than 500 total family members. In just one year, the participating gardeners grew over 11,000 pounds of organic produce valued at over $50,000!
Beyond providing this route to fresh food, LMV has another valuable purpose. It uses food as a tool to help organize stronger communities by introducing them to their neighbors and developing their leadership skills. After completing their first year, participants are encouraged to continue the program by participating in one of six committees, including build assistance, mentorship, and social activities. Committee members are invited to teach and share their skills in the sessions and are provided with additional educational support to help them grow their confidence and teaching skills. The Open Space Authority’s Grant Program has supported this education and participatory skills development program with a $24,971 grant to fund curriculum development, staffing, and workshop costs.
“We see the garden as a vehicle for social change,” says Jacqueline Rivera, La Mesa Verde’s Organizing Manager. “Gardening impacts community members in so many ways beyond physical health. There’s social health! Connecting people to other members of the community! Our participants currently speak eight different languages at home - this program helps introduce them to other members they may not have met. It helps to know you are connected and part of something.”
Many LMV members learn and apply for the program based on word of mouth and referrals from previous participants. Program leaders hope the program will increase environmental awareness and inspire a passion and commitment to food justice issues in the local community.