Homegirl's Farm-to-Kitchen Program Inspires Healthy Eating
As part of First 5 LA's Eat Healthy, Grow Strong public education campaign, we're putting the spotlight on organizations that are working in communities to increase access to healthier foods. By partnering with communities at the grassroots level, they're hoping to make long-term changes in the way people think about, buy and eat food.
This article and video originally appeared on the Best Start website.
For the past several years, Homegirl Café & Catering has been helping at-risk individuals and former gang members redirect their lives and giving them hope for their futures. Now, the restaurant is helping them live healthier lives by giving them access to healthy foods grown in their own communities.
The caf? is a division of Homeboy Industries, the largest gang intervention program in the country through such services as counseling, education, tattoo removal, substance abuse and addiction assistance, job training and job placement. Three years ago, the Chinatown-based restaurant launched Homegirl Gardens, a pilot project to bring fresh, organic produce direct from its urban farms to customers and encourage healthier eating habits among trainees.
"The idea was to have great produce for the café, but also expose our population to growing food in an urban environment," according to Sarah Leone, Homegirl Café & Catering's farm-to-kitchen coordinator, who oversees the project's six gardens within a two-mile radius of the café.
The restaurant grows a variety of fruits and vegetables, ranging from kale, chard, mint, and cilantro to tomatoes, broccoli, lettuce, and snap peas. With limited space, some of these items are grown in containers in the caf?'s parking lot and along a wall.
"You don't need a lot of space to have a garden," adds Leone, noting the gardens provide 15 to 30 percent of the caf?'s produce needs. "The gardens also expose our trainees to where food comes from and is a good lead in to proper nutrition and healthy eating habits."
The Homegirl Gardens project also includes public workshops on such topics as gardening, cooking and nutrition. The gardens themselves promote discussions about healthy diets. Leone says, "We're not here to scorn, but rather, talk about the importance of adding more fruits and vegetables in people's diets."
Adele Juarez, a Homegirl trainee, says when she first saw some of the organic and healthy dishes served at the cafe, she thought, "I would never eat that," but "then I learned the meaning of eating healthy and how you can prevent health issues and diseases."
This inspired her to take several gardening classes to become a "certified victory gardener" so she could help care for the organization's gardens. "I wanted to learn more about the plants as I saw our garden grow," she adds.
In addition to bringing healthier options to restaurant patrons and educating trainees about local food sources and healthy eating, Homegirl Café & Catering composts almost 100 percent of its food waste and uses compostable plastics.
Homegirl Gardens will be holding a free gardening workshop on April 15 with Master Gardener Kathleen Sanchez, who will give a class on native Mexican plants and their culinary and herbal benefits. For more information, go to http://www.homegirlcafe.org.
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