The Skinny on Food Justice

Nan Sterman

Fri February 28, 2014 1:00pm

It’s a sad reality that as a society, growing our own food, knowing where food comes from, and experiencing the magic of eating food we’ve grown ourselves is fast disappearing. Our diets have shifted from fresh, home grown delicious fruits and vegetables to easy-to-access foods that are highly processed and ready to eat. Those foods have more calories, more fat, more sugar than any carrot you pull from the garden.   Combine high calorie foods with a significant decrease in physical activity and the results are easy to see. We are much fatter than we used to be. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) more than one-third of adults in the U.S. are obese.
These problems are magnified in highly urbanized areas where grocery stores are few and far between. These “food deserts” are surprisingly common. In fact, there are a shocking number of areas in San Diego County that qualify as food deserts. People who live in those communities are at enormous risk of being overweight.
But all hope is not lost.
Across San Diego County there are community-based projects combatting the issues surrounding food deserts, access to food and associated health issues. These groups are reintroducing people to fresh, quality fruits and vegetables. They are teaching children and adults how to grow their own, and ensuring those who can’t grow still have access.
In National City, Olivewood Gardens and Learning Center invites local school children to dig in the dirt as they learn about gardening, about the science of growing plants and lessons about the environment in general. What they grow, they harvest, cook and eat in Olivewood’s teaching kitchen. It’s one thing to teach children but, to ensure those lessons carry on at home, Olivewood teaches parents too. It’s an impressive multi-generational effort that’s slowly changing the way National City grows, cooks and eats.
In Oceanside, North County Community Services grows produce to supply seven North County preschools that serve about 500 low income children every year. The Bronner Garden produces hundreds and hundreds of pounds of produce, prepared in the preschool kitchens and served for both breakfast and lunch. Children are introduced to new fruits and vegetables at an early age, for lessons that hopefully last a lifetime.
At Crawford High School in San Diego, students compete for 45 intern positions at the school garden. The on-site garden is a cooperative effort between the school district and the International Rescue Committee. Students learn to grow, harvest and prepare food that is served in the school cafeteria, alongside produce sourced from local and statewide farmers. As they learn to grow their own food, students also learn leadership, job skills and other lessons important for their futures.
In Poway and Rancho Bernardo, people from many walks of life come together to grow as part of the Backyard Produce Project. Every day, people tend a garden where they grow food for others rather than for themselves. The Backyard Produce Project also organizes picking crews who visit backyards to harvest oranges, avocados and other surplus fruits that would otherwise go to waste. All the produce is distributed to low income members of the community at free farmers markets.
While a solution to food deserts and food equality is still a long way off, projects like these show us how farms and gardens can grow a better and healthier future, with food and justice for all.
Learn more about these programs at