Bringing the Neighborhood Together Through Food, During Challenging Times

Bringing the Neighborhood Together Through Food, During Challenging Times

It was harvest time for the 22 raised beds that constitute the garden at NHS’ Center for Sustainable Communities in Compton, CA. The garden is a part of NHS’ urban agriculture program and is a part of a larger effort over the last 20+ years to help ensure that our families who live in food deserts are eating more healthy foods.

Sheila Moweta, food justice coordinator for NHS of LA County, had hoped to have seniors from a nearby center help bring in the cauliflower, kale, collards, Swiss chard, snap peas, cilantro and purple mustard greens.

“They were looking for something to do,” she says.

But by the time the crops were ready, the seniors had been given a mandate to stay inside. “We packed up everything – snap peas and collard greens that were so fresh, they didn’t taste anything like in the store,” she says. They brought the crops to the center so the seniors could cook the bounty in their apartments.

Moweta also cooked up the purple mustard greens and collards for residents to try. “Eating out of your own garden does change people. Now they see what they’re looking at every day is delicious.”

Moweta isn’t a master gardener. She learned from her parents and her grandmother. When she started as food justice coordinator, she began working with the students who had been watering the garden as part of a METRO CDC project, and the seniors who had come to weed it. What she didn’t know, the community helped fill in, answering her questions about soil and pests. In the past year, they’ve turned it over twice, she says. “There’s still a lot of rich soil in Compton,” which is about 15 miles from Los Angeles, she says. And there’s a lot of gardening.

NHS also gave the seniors peat cups and beefsteak tomato seeds. “They can put them in their rooms in the window,” Moweta says. “I’m doing it at home, too. Right now, tiny tomato leaves are coming up. But they’re fragile, still.”

Moweta is also growing other seedlings in her home: zucchini, basil, tomatoes, onions, cilantro, kale. “This year we might try beets, to see how it works,” she says. “I look forward to the day we can make a beautiful meal and share it, so people won’t think of it as being rabbit food. If they grow it, they want to taste it.”

Moweta says in the garden, they try to put vegetables together that will make a meal or a food item. Add tomatoes to onions and cilantro and you’ve got salsa, she says. “Last summer I made pesto from the first harvest.”

Moweta says the gardening enthusiasm goes beyond her community. “Everyone’s bored and now everyone’s back in their yards,” she says. “What was old is new again. And that’s a good thing. Neighbors can share tomatoes over the fence again. It brings the neighborhood back together. There’s nothing like a garden to do that.”

This article is part of “People Turn to Gardening to Grow Food, Alleviate Stress,” written by NeighborWorks America 

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