Sunday, June 3, 2012

Meeting people where they are

Yesterday, my nutrition instructor Lisa ( finally came to visit with her friend James. Our lives have been so busy, which happens when we’re so passionate about improving the quality of people’s lives through healthy eating—there is just no end to our work! (Lisa’s familiar face appeared at and her RD colleagues visited at

Our volunteer workdays can become routine—planting, harvesting, watering, etc.—so it’s a real treat to have visitors to perk things up. I love to invite friends to meet me at The Free Farm. Goodness, what would I blog about each week without fresh faces to brighten our workdays?!  

While we do provide gloves, these first-time volunteers opted to get their hands dirty while planting more greens. Yay, let’s grow food security! 
Lisa’s friend James is an IT professional/hobby gardener with an organic apple orchard farm in Sebastopol, selling apples to an organic baby food manufacturer. James generously donated to us a shopping bag of sample seed packets ranging from beans to sunflowers. When I asked about the seeds painted in turquoise and pink, James explained that they were treated with fungicide. Unfortunately since we don’t know what kind of fungicide (not just milk, coffee, vegetable oil, detergent, white vinegar, etc. at; see also, we’ll err on the side of caution and stick to using seeds of known organic quality. We really do appreciate donations, but we have limited growing space. In fact, Tree is still trying to find space for my second ashitaba (bush grows 4’ wide) . . . so we’d most appreciate donations of land to plant more :-)!
Lunch spread courtesy of Stanley (tabouleh, roasted beets and sweet potatoes), Tree (tossed greens with vinaigrette and calendula petals) and Wandering Veggie (I Am Giving GOMBS salad). Woops, complete protein is missing (other than sprinkle of sesame seeds; but tofu/soybean samples were available at nearby Japantown’s Lisa’s really cool—an RD who actually likes the taste of food beyond its nutritional content, but I still get self-conscious about meeting nutrition and food safety standards (I passed exam to become Certified Food Safety Manager, thanks to Lisa’s excellent teaching) when I’m around RDs.

Based on Google analytics, this blog’s greatest views appear to be postings that mention GOMBS or GOMBBS (acronym for cancer-preventing Greens+Onions+Mushrooms+Beans+Berries+Seeds, . . . so due to anticipated popular demand, here’s my gluten-free, raw GOMBS salad recipe adapted from CafĂ© Gratitude’s Marinated Kale Salad aka I Am Giving:
4 cups kale (Green), chiffonade
1 cup carrots, shredded
1 cup cucumbers, julienne-cut
¼ cup hijiki (presoak 2 hours & drain)
1 cup shiitake Mushrooms, sliced & marinated (¼ cup lemon juice + ¼ cup Bragg’s liquid aminos)
Stir in marinade:
¼ cup e.v.o.o.
¼ cup orange juice
2 Tbsp Bragg’s liquid aminos
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 Tbsp sesame oil
Garnish with: chopped green Onions, goji Berries, sesame Seeds
After lunch when Stanley opens farmstand, Lisa recognizes her student Jean who attends nutrition class at Jewish Community Center.

I still remember my first visit to Lisa’s nutrition class at Golden Gate Park Senior Center (GGPSC), where the entrance door had a sign stating the facility was for seniors age 55+, but Lisa made me feel so welcome. She also promoted a safe learning community, so students were free to reveal their personal health issues and then Lisa would kindly suggest dietary changes.

Partly because women outlive men, Lisa’s GGPSC students are mostly women. But unlike the intensity, competition and consciousness-raising that I experienced while attending a women’s college (and I was required to live on-campus with the typical 17-22 age group), the exchanges and bonding among older women were so relaxed and often funny. Sure this was a noncredit class, but I also find most people mellow out from just going through life experiences (“been there, done that”). Since I grew up in a multi-generational household, I really value the diversity from interacting with a wide range of age groups and I’m especially enriched from the wisdom of our elders.
When Jean tells me that Lisa’s her teacher, I proudly tell her that Lisa’s also my teacher!
Back to work after lunch
“My family calls me Pancho” arrives with his father visiting from Mexico. 
Stanley and her childhood friend Jaye, who’s visiting from Massachusetts where he has a farm!
Beekeeper Pam with her beeswax candle creations
K offers samples of our first harvest of raspberries!

Growing food security

Tree asked whether Lisa teaches vegetarian diets. The answer is what Lisa often reminds us: You have to meet people where they are—and it’s challenging to restrict foods for someone already with limited food resources to meet nutritional guidelines of a balanced diet (grains + proteins + vegetables + fruits). The reality is that people know they should be eating more vegetables, but many seniors (almost 1 in 3 people age 75 or older in SF lives in poverty) and persons with disabilities are food insecure.

The consequences of food insecurity may mean malnutrition (low-cost, calorie-dense but nutritionally poor food intake of refined salt/sugar/flour--"poor quality vegetarian"), less variety of foods (8 foods are responsible for 90% of food allergies: milk, egg, peanut, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy, wheat), chronic disease (obesity, hypertension, diabetes), mental depression, etc.

Since there is a large population of seniors in SF who are unconnected with family and have limited mobility, their issues often fall under the radar. Two weeks ago, District 5 (which includes The Free Farm) Supervisor Christina Olague held a City Hall hearing about the “senior surge” as she was particularly concerned about meeting the needs of her District, which has the City’s highest number of seniors in public housing. (

Sadly, when the time came for 2-minute comments from the public, many seniors were leaving the chambers so they could have their noontime senior congregate meals. At some senior meal sites, lunch may be the only meal of the day for many seniors. Fortunately, many senior services providers and advocates stepped up to speak on behalf of their clients. Many seniors may qualify but cannot access food distribution programs because they cannot drive, stand in line, carry their food bags up the stairs or hills in their neighborhood. Many find it difficult to go anywhere without assistance and a ride. In addition, even if seniors can access fresh produce, they may lack the facilities for storage and preparation (especially in SROs).
Lolita Kintanar is Director of Senior Services at Canon Kip Senior Center (, which provides meals and other supportive services via Aging and Disability Resource Center ( stations throughout the City. 
Robin Meese-Cruz is Director of Social Work at Meals on Wheels (, which delivers nutritious meals to homebound seniors throughout the City.

At the hearing, one senior in a wheelchair said he wanted to “de-retire” to be productive and pay taxes, not just receive a handout from the government or charitable organizations. According to gerontologists, people perform best when their environment challenges them to test their limits but not overwhelm them. However, if the environmental press is too low, then people suffer sensory deprivation, boredom, learned helplessness, and dependence on others. I thought about how our garden table could meet this senior where he is on his wheelchair. By meeting people where they are and actively engaging them in our gardening activities, our communities would be so much richer.

For other ways to help support food security, see

Thanks to all the volunteers and visitors who meet us where we are at The Free Farm to grow and support local food security!

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