Project focuses on health, community building, and nutrition, program manager says.

Families in San Bernardino, California, United States, will enjoy a Thanksgiving bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables they grew themselves. The nutritional improvement comes after Loma Linda University Health (LLUH) donated a one-acre (0.4-hectare) parcel to establish an organic community garden and outdoor activity center earlier this year. 

The initiative aims to improve nutrition and mental well-being among the underserved, program coordinators said.

The city of San Bernardino is one of Southern California’s food deserts — an area where people have limited access to affordable, nutritious food due to poverty, food insecurity, limited access to grocery stores, and lack of transportation.

Jardín de la Salud, Spanish for “Garden of Health,” is an initiative of Loma Linda University’s Community-Academic Partners in Service (CAPS), part of the Institute for Community Partnerships (ICP), to provide wholesome produce and safe outdoor green spaces to the local underserved population.

Nearly 30 families received plots of land this summer to grow their organic fruits and vegetables. They are growing produce like tomatoes, bell peppers, chilis, eggplant, zucchini, beans, carrots, and beets, feeding four or more people in a home.

Karla Estudillo-Fuentes, program manager, said families are passionate about not only eating more healthfully but gaining the mental health benefits that go along with the physical activity of gardening. 

“Jardín de la Salud is community led and community built,” Estudillo-Fuentes said. Seven community members have already volunteered to be garden leaders, responsible for overseeing other volunteers, assisting with plot development, and opening and closing the garden space. 

Estudillo-Fuentes said a community planting area has been established recently, where fruits and vegetables grown are sold at the garden’s market — bringing fresh, organic produce at a low price to the community, helping to sustain the garden’s costs. The market is held on the first Tuesday and third Sunday every month. Next summer’s garden harvest is estimated to fill 250 boxes to be distributed to San Bernardino families in need, Estudillo-Fuentes said.

To help grow and maintain the garden, ICP partnered with Huerta del Valle, which is the city of Ontario, California’s first urban community farm. Initiated in 2010, this grassroots agricultural effort has become a hub for sustainable organic production and distribution, community health, economic development, and nutrition education.

“Jardín de la Salud is truly a place where we focus on health, community building, mental health, nutrition, food justice, environmental justice, and empowerment,” Estudillo-Fuentes said. “This garden and green space allows community members to learn more about their connection to the earth and feel empowered to address the health of their family and themselves — they are the ones that continue to make it fruitful every day.”  

The original version of this story was posted on the Loma Linda University Health News site.


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