By Nick Quaglietta
The most recent meeting of the Feeding Tucson Champion’s Network took place on the morning of Saturday, June 28th and was devoted to an orientation and tour of The Garden Kitchen, which is located in South Tucson at 2205 S 4th Ave. This facility was opened two years ago and is a joint venture of Pima County and the UA Cooperative Extension service, which is part of the College of Agriculture & Life Sciences and is responsible for operating the Kitchen.
Ms. Louisa O’Meara, a first-year UA public health graduate student, provided the group with an overview of the history of The Garden Kitchen, a description of its educational programs, as well as a tour of the facility and garden. She also talked about their vision, which is to reduce the incidence of obesity and diabetes in adults-primarily those living in low-income areas. They strive to accomplish this by promoting a “seed-to-table” approach to local food production and health by offering ongoing demonstration classes in gardening, food preparation, and nutrition. Ms. O’Meara highlighted the importance of people being able to eat healthier when they know how to cook and garden, along with the disadvantages associated with having a generation growing up in our community that has lost this knowledge and those skills.
The discussion then moved forward to the topic of funding for such programs. Ms. O’Meara explained that the money used to purchase the building and equipment that is now The Garden Kitchen was provided through a grant from the Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) initiative, which is under the CDC’s Division of Community Health. The goal of this initiative to tackle obesity and tobacco use, which are two leading preventable causes of death and disability in the United States. Support for the demonstration classes comes from Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education (SNAP-Ed), which is under the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service. This program is aimed at improving nutrition and increasing physical activity through the provision of evidenced-based nutrition education among SNAP eligible audiences. When asked about the potential need for additional programs of this type in the Tucson area, Ms. O’Meara responded by saying that her program is not yet operating at full capacity. She also pointed out that, due to the type of funding they receive, they are limited to providing educational benefits to only adults.
The question was then raised as to how this group might help Tucson get from where a program like The Garden Kitchen is now to ensuring a local food source that is secure and reliable. Several members of the group also addressed the importance of reaching out to our young people as well. A good deal of the discussion was then devoted to brainstorming about these issues with numerous suggestions being offered regarding where and how the group could direct its future efforts. One theme that clearly filtered through this discussion was the apparent need for greater collaboration among the various food- and nutrition-related programs in the Tucson area, which are now somewhat fragmented as a result of the limitations imposed by different sources of funding.
The final outcome of the meeting was the realization that more field work will be necessary in order for this group to gain a better perspective on the big picture when it comes to local food sources and other related programs in the Tucson community. The result was the compiling of a list of various local organizations and business enterprises, which the group will be visiting and learning more about at future gatherings.
Addending: Tres English, Carlos Nagel, JodyLee Duek, Sofia Anghasa, Steve Uyeda, Nick Quaglietta, Chrystal Brumann, Norman Soifer, Don Breckenfeld, Chris Breckenfeld, Paula Schlusberg, Javier Lopez, Gary Vender, Camille Kershner, Susan Waites