“Reflections on My First Month at Valley Verde: Beliefs in Action” by Rachelle Harding
“This would be a dream,” I typed in a message to my two best friends. I had just started applying for jobs and was looking for an opportunity more closely related to my recently completed master’s degree in International Community Development. When I found the Home Garden Program Manager job-posting at Valley Verde, I thought the position looked too good to be true. A nonprofit organization that teaches people to grow their own organic food? An organization that cares about social justice and environmental issues? An opportunity to be surrounded by beautiful gardens and share in the bounty of the harvest? Definitely, too good to be true. Yet, here I am, two months later, sitting at my desk and picking the dirt out of my nails after planting dozens of seeds in preparation for our fall/winter planting day at the farm, or “La Finca”, as we call our headquarters at Valley Verde.
In a political environment filled with divisive opinions and deep prejudices, I need an outlet for my passion. I spent two years learning best practices in community development and I am tired of talking, theorizing, writing papers, and sharing Facebook posts. I want to get my hands dirty and “do the work,” offering my skills and passion while also learning from the rich diversity of our members. Valley Verde’s core values stir my passion to uplift voices of people and groups who have been pushed to the margins of society. These values include empowerment, sustainability, wellness, equity, inclusion, and reciprocity.
As an organization, we strive to teach the numerous, yet often, overlooked members of our community how to grow and eat healthy organic food which is culturally relevant and preferred. Santa Clara county in California, the community Valley Verde serves, has a population of nearly two million people according to the US Census Bureau (US Census Bureau, 2018). Of this population, 53.1% identify as white (including people from the middle east and north Africa), 38.6% identify as foreign-born persons, 38.3% identify as Asian alone, 31% identify as white, non-Hispanic or Latino, 25.3% identify as Hispanic or Latino, 4.1% identify as having two or more races, 2.8% identify as black or African American, 1.2% American Indian or Native Alaskan, and .5% identify as Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander (US Census Bureau, 2018). Yet, despite more than half of our residents being non-European, mainstream food systems do not proportionately cater to the appropriate heritage foods of our community members and they are scrambling to diversify their selection (Industry Outlook, 2016).
Locally, gardeners are hard-pressed to find seeds and seedlings of the culturally preferred foods they eat and want to grow. Facebook marketplace has become a “backyard vendor” for those seeking diverse plants like bitter melon, okra, katuk plants, atemoya trees, moringa, curry plant, calabash (bau), cumin, bottle gourd, Tar/snake melon, turmeric, holy basil, Japanese radish/daikon, epazote, and a plethora of other varieties depending on location. Yet, the Facebook marketplace will fluctuate in quality, organic offerings, and reliable availability. Some of these foods are available in ethnic supermarkets for a hefty price, yet the seedlings are not available to gardeners. Valley Verde seeks to provide many of the diverse plants that local nurseries do not offer to better reflect our diverse community. Currently, we grow about 30 different varieties per year, with plans to increase the number of diverse seedlings each season.
Valley Verde is a relatively young organization which began in 2012. We have grown from serving 50 families, to serving 139 and counting in 2019. We are working on refining our programs, streamlining our systems, and increasing our community impact. Recently, I watched as ten mothers, recovering from addiction, got their hands dirty in their community garden by tearing down the dying summer plants in preparation for our fall planting day. These women are being given educational tools and the opportunity to make new choices to impact not only their own health, but also the health of their children. Exciting developments are on the horizon for Valley Verde, and I am thankful for the opportunity to live out my values through my new vocation.
If you would like to partner with Valley Verde to accomplish our work, consider one of the opportunities below:
1. Sign up for our “Buy One, Give One” Seedling Subscription program at https://www.valleyverde.org/buy-one-give-one
2. Donate to our organization to help us reach more families at https://www.valleyverde.org/donate
3. Volunteer at La Finca. Put your skills to use by helping us with everything from garden projects to community engagement. Visit the volunteer link at our website at: https://www.valleyverde.org/volunteer
4. Purchase a ticket for our upcoming special fundraising event on November 4th with the legendary Dolores Huerta, mayor Sam Liccardo, and Jaqueline Martinez, CEO of the Latino Community Foundation. https://www.eventbrite.com/e/dolores-huerta-a-mothers-determination-tickets-68663487339
Industry Outlook. (2016). Retrieved from Food Processing: https://www.foodprocessing.com/articles/2016/new-food-demographics/?show=all
San Jose Demographics and Diversity. (2019, 9 17). Retrieved from San Jose Convention and Visitors Bureau: https://www.sanjose.org/meetings/quick-guides/san-jose-demographics-and-diversity
US Census Bureau. (2018, July 1). Retrieved from Quick Facts Santa Clara County, California: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/santaclaracountycalifornia