A partnership project between Cabrillo Economic Development Corporation and California State University, Channel Islands, has received the university’s Center For Community Engagement’s 2019 Best Community Engagement Award.
The project is a partnership between Kathleen Contreras, PhD., and an instructor for “The Chicano Child & Adolescent” course, her students and Cabrillo’s Villa Cesar Chavez Apartments.
The Salsa Garden Project sought to connect students to low-income and immigrant youth, their families, and community-based organizations; to increase awareness of the importance of a plant-based diet, especially vegetables grown in a sustainable community garden maintained by the residents; and to teach literacy-based, hands-on activities to children in the local community.
“It is ironic that in a rich, agricultural region in Ventura County, farmworkers often don’t benefit from the fresh fruits and vegetables they harvest,” according to the project’s presentation. “However, a local community and culturally relevant nutritional garden can reduce food insecurity and positive dietary intake, as well as strengthen community relationships.”
The three-week project began with 27 students meeting with farmworker residents at Villa Cesar Chavez Apartments and its resident manager, Cristina Heredia, a CSUCI alumna. Heredia said the original plan came from Contreas.
Heredia said CSUCI students surveyed residents about their preferences for plants with regard to cultural significance and personal tastes and based their vegetable choices on those outcomes. The college students then took that information out to local businesses to garner donations for the project – businesses like Agromin, which donated soil for the project.
The students created learning stations for resident children for the literacy-based educational portion. Stations included:
• Professor Contreras reading to children from her book,” Cosechando Amigos/Harvesting Friends”
• Creating garden bookmarks to encourage independent reading
• Creating colorful plant identification markers for the garden, vegetable-shaped science observational journals and a bulletin board with vegetable art
• Planting culturally relevant vegetables like corn, cilantro four types of tomatoes, three kinds of chiles, squash, and onions.
• Serving fresh vegetable snacks including homemade salsa and fruit-flavored water
“We are so proud of our CSUCI students who engaged children living at Villa Chavez in literacy-based activities related to healthy eating practices and gardening activities. They and the children worked hard in creating a culturally-relevant, community-based garden providing fresh vegetables on-site at Villa Cesar Chavez. Our goal is not only to feed the residents but grow friendship and strengthen community bonds.” said Contreras.
Contreras said the project implemented a variety of the service learning program’s best practices, including:
• Combining bilingual services, books, discussions, interactions and community organizing in a single project
• Aligning the professional goals of the CSUCI students with a community-based organization and its clients
• Uniting cross-generational participants in an activity
• Connecting with CSU alumni who are working in community-based professions
• Connecting to community-based partners for in-kind donations.
Service-learning offers an additional teaching tool to learn about the social, educational, health and financial realities of Latino youth and their families living in a farmworker community while enriching the academic and social experiences of CSUCI students, many of whom are aspiring to become bilingual teachers. Channel Islands students gain rich experiences in teaching literacy-based and hands-on activities for children, according to the project presentation materials.