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“Fresh Farm” Cultivating Healthy Communities

For one vulnerable community in San Diego, garden project provides healthy, affordable food and so much more.

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“Be Inspired” is honored to showcase seven remarkable nominees who were recognized as semi-finalists for Kaiser Permanente’s 2015 David Lawrence Community Service Award. Please scroll down to read today’s featured profile.

The annual David Lawrence Community Service Award recognizes individuals and teams at Kaiser Permanente who champion outstanding activities and initiatives to positively impact health, whether it is in their local communities or abroad. These nominees embody Kaiser Permanente’s mission to improve community health. Their commitments have been to important health and social issues, such as increasing access to health care for the underserved, eliminating disparities in health outcomes of racial and ethnic minorities, addressing the social determinants of health, and being strong stewards of our natural resources.

To recognize their amazing work and dedication to giving back, David Lawrence Community Service Award winners receive a $10,000 grant to a nonprofit of their choosing, which is funded by Kaiser Permanente’s national Community Benefit.

 “Be Inspired” will feature all seven semi-finalists for the Southern California region on a weekly basis. The two Southern California award winners of the 2015 awards will be announced on January 26, 2016.

San Diego “Fresh Farm” Team

It’s difficult to fathom the challenges of being a refugee without having experienced it yourself. Imagine being forced to leave your country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster, and having to rebuild your life in a foreign land. Without knowing the culture or the language, where would you turn for support?

For Iraqi refugees living in El Cajon, a city that’s located in San Diego County, California, the answer is the International Rescue Committee (IRC). In addition to providing support with the resettlement process, IRC promotes healthy living strategies through “New Roots,” a unique community gardening and small business farming program.

In 2012 Kaiser Permanente’s San Diego Medical Center, partnered with IRC to establish the Fresh Farm Committee in an effort to provide an opportunity for healthy eating and active living to refugees and other members of the local community.

The greatest health issues for Iraqi refugees in San Diego are chronic conditions such as hypertension, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. These conditions are made worse by the park-deficient, auto-oriented neighborhood landscape of El Cajon where walking, biking and active recreational opportunities are scarce.

Additionally, like most other low-income neighborhoods in the U.S., El Cajon has a predominant number of fast-food restaurants and grocery stores offering cheaper, processed foods over healthier options.

The Fresh Farm has provided healthy food security with land and technical assistance to grow high-quality, healthy fruits and vegetables for 55 mostly low-income families. In addition to increasing access to healthy foods, this effort has also facilitated improved community relations among neighbors, increasing social cohesion among plot owners.

In 2014, Fresh Farm growers produced 26,500 pounds of vegetable crops. 12 gardeners applied for and received their County-approved permit to sell at certified farmers’ market like the El Cajon Farmers’ Market (ECFM). There is on average five El Cajon gardeners vending each week at the farmers’ market in Downtown El Cajon, averaging about $25 in weekly sales.

With a typical refugee household averaging about $100 a month in discretionary income, market gardeners are able to double their monthly household savings thanks to this project. Further, the ECFM is one of the few farmers’ markets in East San Diego County and the only EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer)-accessible farmers’ market. Thus, low-income shoppers comprise the majority of the ECFM customers and the Fresh Farm is a critical factor to the market’s continuation and success.

The project helps to address prevention or reduction of chronic health issues like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity by facilitating healthy eating and active living to recently arrived refugees. The garden also addresses mental and behavioral health by providing social interaction and therapeutic activity in nature.

The Fresh Farm project has turned into a sustainable project that addresses many important health factors. In addition to the Fresh Farm, there are now three other community gardens in the City of El Cajon as a direct result of KPSD’s and IRC’s collaborative advocacy efforts to change policy: Circle Garden, Magnolia School Community Garden, and Volunteers in Medicine Community Garden.