Talking Food Systems

San Diego residents are leading a movement to improve access to healthy food and economic opportunity through traditional community gardens and farmers markets; and innovative projects like backyard growers’ certification and urban farm stands. The movement has changed public policy making it easier for small-scale agriculture to thrive in the urban environment.

The reason behind this movement lies in the social inequities that exist within the conventional food system. These ideas are explored from the perspective of the communities adversely impacted by these social constructs. By addressing the various reasons why individuals find it difficult to sustain a healthy lifestyle, Land & Freedom shows how issues like food deserts, health, blight, crime and public transportation are interconnected.

Through participation in the project, residents become identifiable community leaders advocating for their neighborhoods. Their stories are an inspiration to others to get active in their community and develop an appreciation for natural foods and healthy lifestyles.

Margarita’s Fresh Flowers, Produce and Plants

Linda Vista

At Margarita’s Fresh Flowers, Produce & Plants we meet Santos Hernandez and his family. Santos, a Oaxacan native started a farmers’ market booth at Kobey’s Swap Meet on Sports Arena Blvd. before he opened his own roadside shop in 2000. Naming the market and nursery after his mother, Margarita, he sells bouquets of flowers cut fresh from Encinitas. The flower and vegetable transplants, along with the fresh produce in his shop come from his farm in Escondido. Now open seven days a week, plus two days at the swap meet with the help from his family, Santos leads a busy life. It’s a life he enjoys, spending time with his children and wife, getting plenty of exercise at work, being around healthy food all the time, and straying from harmful substances. The family business seems to be running okay for Santos, but he doesn’t see himself passing the business down to his kids. University and medical school is what he sees in his children’s future.

Linda Vista Farmers’ Market

Linda Vista

It’s another Thursday in Linda Vista. A group of women sit around a table at the Linda Vista Farmers’ Market chatting about their lives. We meet neighborhood resident Thuy Le, a Vietnamese refugee and senior on Social Security. She explains that when she was able to work she would buy organic produce, now on Supplemental Security Income (SSI) she’s not able to afford both rent and the produce at the farmers’ market. Thuy is concerned that the processed and pesticide-grown foods at the supermarket are bad for her health, but must buy them because of her limited income. Often she is not able to afford food at the farmers’ market or the supermarket and must seek emergency food distribution at Bayside Community Center or be indebted to her credit card company for end of the month meals. Regardless of purchasing produce at the farmers’ market, Thuy is there every week with friends seeking deals and enjoying the experience of the farmers’ market.

Linda Vista Community Garden at Bayside

Linda Vista

At the Linda Vista Community Garden at Bayside Community Center we meet resident gardeners Tomasa Ruiz and Yves Brancheau. Tomasa grows organic produce for her family and in the garden finds relief from the everyday stresses of raising teenagers. Yves teaches his young children about nature and reinforces healthy diets and exercise. The success of the garden highlights the obstacles around the neighborhood for expansion.

La Maestra Community Health Centers’ Garden of Hope

City Heights

At the La Maestra Community Health Centers’ community garden we find gardeners Norma Rodriguez and Norma Jerilla. Norma R. speaks of growing up in rural Mexico and how rural lifestyles by design are more healthier than living in the city. The garden reminds her of her younger years and helps maintain her health through exercise and fresh produce that’s hard to find at the short-lived nearby markets. Norma J. finds stress relief in the garden and access to produce grown without chemical pesticides.

Arroyo Paseo Charter High School Health & Sustainability Club

City Heights

Students at Arroyo Paseo Charter High School started the Health & Sustainability student club to work in the school garden. We’re introduced to students Khadija Osman, Ana Vega, and Cindy Perez. They speak of having tough times in other schools and found that the attention of the teachers they receive at Arroyo Paseo and project based learning like the garden club has attributed to their success in school. Khadija, a Somali refugee and Muslim, is torn between the traditions of her family and her goals of attending university, while being the target of prejudice. With the aid of her teachers in the new school, Khadija gets accepted to UC Merced and plans to attend in the Fall. The school’s approach to diverse students working together discourages the bigoted bullying that affects many schools.

City Heights Community Garden (1991–1996)

City Heights

Looking around the I-15 University overpass it’s hard to believe this area once sprouted one of the largest gardens in San Diego. From 1991–1996 the City Heights Community Garden reconnected a community that was split in half in preparation of I-15 construction. Anna Daniels, the garden’s coordinator, tells of a dark time in City Heights when abandoned homes became havens for drug dealers and how the garden and its art became an alternative icon for the neighborhood. The garden then became a community hub where Hmong refugees from Laos found a resource to employ their agrarian skills.

Second Chance’s Urban Garden Program

Southeastern San Diego

On a Friday afternoon at the roadside farm stand of the Urban Garden Program at Second Chance we meet and hear stories from youth resident farmers Daisy Cortes, Elizabeth Vargas, and Luis Ramirez. It’s a struggle to eat healthy in an environment dominated by fast food restaurants and liquor stores. They find that unhealthy food is cheap and easy to pickup. Daisy has multiple family members who suffer from the food related illness, Type 2 Diabetes. The more she works the land, she realizes that choosing healthy food may not be an easy choice, but it is necessary to maintain optimal health.

People’s Produce Farmers’ Market

Southeastern San Diego

At the edge of Chollas Creek we meet up with neighborhood resident, UC San Diego student, and People’s Produce Farmers’ Market volunteer Eric Henson. He tells us how the farmers’ market has become a popular social gathering spot on Saturdays for the older generation in the neighborhood. Eric volunteers at the farmers’ market as part of his university research where he studies community based business models that promote economic independence and a sense of neighborhood ownership by its residents. An initiative of the Project New Village, the farmers’ market celebrates small local businesses and redefines the idea of local agriculture, with produce coming from nearby gardens. In October of 2014, this farmers’ market moved from its original location on Market St. to its new home around the block on 47th St. at Castana St.

Mt. Hope Community Garden

Southeastern San Diego

The motivation to reform San Diego’s urban agriculture ordinances started at the vacant lot that has become the Mt. Hope Community Garden. The garden continues to inspire innovative approaches to city farming, hosting talented gardeners seeking to get their garden beds certified organic to sell their produce at a premium and preparing a large production garden to harvest vegetables to be sold at Project New Village’s other initiative, the People’s Produce Farmers’ Market. At the garden we meet Kadumu Moyenda and Rosalind Garcia. Kadumu works to keep the weeds from taking over and tends to the communal garden bed for the Black Storytellers of San Diego. The garden represents more than a place for growing plants, for Kadumu, it’s a place to grow community. Nibbling on the strawberries she’s growing, Rosalind explains that gardening is physical therapy for her recovering back. Relying upon public transit to get around, it’s tough for residents in the neighborhood to go shopping at big box shops outside the neighborhood. She sees the garden and the nearby farmers’ market as positive opportunities in the neighborhood.