Grace Rivera sits behind a table stacked full of vegetable seeds and smiles brightly as a group of young children and their teachers approach.
“Cauliflower is one of my favorite vegetables!” one youngster shouts.
“Are you going to take them home?” Rivera asks, referring to seeds the kids have gathered.
“Nope! We are going to take them back there and plant them now,” another says, proudly pointing to their plot in the community garden behind Rivera.
This is a typical scene at Sustainable Food Center’s (SFC) Spread the Harvest biannual Resource Giveaway Day, an event that Rivera volunteers at regularly. Hosted at New Day Community Garden in East Austin, the Resource Giveaway Day provides school, community and low-income gardeners with free seeds, plants, compost and organic fertilizer to start their gardens each season.
A Houston native, Rivera came to Austin in 2005 and got involved with SFC by taking a free six-week class through its cooking and nutrition education program, The Happy Kitchen/La Cocina Alegre®. Since then, she has taken 32 more cooking and gardening classes, volunteered at multiple events and participated in Farm to Work, SFC’s program that connects local farmers with employees at partner worksites. Now a trained facilitator at The Happy Kitchen/La Cocina Alegre, Rivera teaches the very cooking class she first participated in over a decade ago.
“My mom was a gardener,” she recounts. “It may be the real, secret reason I got involved [with SFC]. Every time I get out in the garden, I really reconnect with her. In the Hispanic culture, food is love! That memory of being out there with her and then bringing [the food] in and cooking it for my family, it’s precious. I just wish everybody had that experience.”
After getting involved with SFC and learning so much about organic food gardening and healthy cooking, Rivera has seen her blood sugar levels drop and overall health improve. “Now I use a lot less salt. I think about it when I add meat to something. I think about all the different ingredients.”
But it’s the connections she makes that inspire her to stay involved in this work. She volunteers because of the interactions she has with interesting and diverse people. She takes classes to continue her pursuit of lifelong learning and she teaches to pass her knowledge down to future generations. “I don’t have access to my mom anymore, but I can go and take a tamale class and relive all that and bring home some awesome-tasting tamales.”
When asked what she would like to share with others, Rivera had this to say: “If you didn’t have the experience [I had] growing up, make that experience for your kids. It’s highly important, I think, for kids to know where their food is coming from.”
For more information, visit sustainablefoodcenter.org
By Becca Montjoy, Sustainable Food Center