California – Los Angeles: Seeds of Hope

Tiana Austel

Tiana Austel is a 3rd year Psychology and Communication Studies double major at UCLA. Tiana has always been passionate about service and it shows through her numerous involvements at UCLA. She is a Volunteer Center Fellow, USAC Community Service Commission Chief of Staff, Residential Assistant on the Hill, and Co-President of UCLA’s Swipe Out Hunger.

This summer, Tiana has volunteered with Seeds of Hope, a ministry of the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles. Tiana chose to volunteer with this organization because of its multi-faceted approach to food justice in the local Los Angeles area and its ingenuity in tackling a problem overlooked by many communities. Food justice can be defined as “communities exercising their rights to grow, sell, and eat fresh, nutritious, affordable, culturally appropriate, and grown locally [food] with care for the well-being of the land, workers, and animals.” To restore their definition of food justice, creating universal access to basic nutrition, Seeds of Hope combines gardening, nutrition, education, and fitness to empower congregations, communities, and schools in area of need.  Tiana learned about this organization because it is currently a community partner of the Civic Engagement 133 Service Learning Course run by the Center of Civic Engagement and taught by Dr. Kathy O’Byrne.

Upon first hearing about the organization through the internship course, Tiana admired Seeds of Hope’s ability to utilize unused areas such as parking lots or patios, areas people often overlook, to plant a variety of gardens and orchards that provide hundreds of pounds of food a year. As part of UCLA’ Swipe Out Hunger, which reuses unused meal swipes from residents on the Hill, Tiana has always been fascinated with the idea of reimagining how to use resources easily and efficiently. It is difficult to plant a community garden when land in Los Angeles can cost thousands of dollars. This is why Tiana admired Seeds of Hope’s resourcefulness and ability to see what is not in existence, but instead what could be. Tiana described the surreal experience of seeing previously overlooked areas turn into thriving, plentiful gardens that feed entire communities and of helping pass legislation so that more families have a more consistent source of healthy, nutritious food.

There is no typical day at Seeds of Hope. Tiana said, “I remember many times not even knowing until I got to the location what we were going to do on most days.” Over the course of her 10 week internship program, Tiana helped build drip irrigation systems, planted and weeded numerous gardens, taught nutrition classes, participated in Zumba classes, attended a food policy meeting hosted by the South Los Angeles Food Coalition and other various meetings for the Center of Public Health, designed nutrition pamphlets, shopped and prepared meals for under $2 a serving, and surveyed areas from as far as Pasadena to Long Beach to access food environments surrounding schools and churches for the Department of Public Health. The variety of tasks is what made her experience so fun. “Seeds of Hope let me explore places of Los Angeles I had never explored before and introduced me to people who were so passionate about their job they are willing to rearrange their entire schedule to help even just one person out.”

Tiana describes working with Seeds of Hope as one of the most fantastic and challenging experiences she has ever had while attending UCLA. The organization changed her perspective of the entire food justice movement, and especially her part in it. Tiana explained, “It has made me recognize that in some areas, they don’t have a local supermarket that carries fresh food daily or even knowledge of how to cook certain fruits and vegetables. It has taught me to not take for granted that I can just pick and choose from whatever food I want from the grocery store without thinking about the cost, or that I can walk over to a local farmers’ market to pick new produce.”

This experience has also opened Tiana’s eyes to the invisible burdens that families carry on their backs because of their food insecurity and how that can affect everyday life. Tiana learned that food is the universal equalizer; whether rich or poor, everyone needs access to food that can give energy to go through their daily lives. Food is also just as much a cultural and social construction as it is a biological factor. “Food is a way that you can show love to others around you, it’s a way to pass on cultural traditions and celebrate religious holidays. Sometimes we even attach meaning onto certain foods such as birthday cakes or unleavened bread, and we use certain foods to symbolize grand occasions.” By helping restore access to previously unavailable foods, Tiana and Seeds of Hope are, in a way, helping families carry on the legacy of their ancestors through their food and lead longer, healthier, and more prosperous lives. Tiana has also learned the power of conversation and how speaking about these topics can be a learning experience for both the advocate and recipient. “Everyone has their own personal struggle and experience around food and it’s only when we can start bringing it into our daily conversations that we can start eliminating the stigma that surrounds food insecurity.”

Tiana’s favorite part of volunteering with Seeds of Hope was working with people who are so passionate about the cause and would help at the drop of a hat if something goes wrong. She loved being around people who believed actions speak louder than words, that there is no obstacle that is too large, and who would much rather be outside in the gardens weeding than sitting in meetings simply talking about what “could” be done. “It is rare to find such a loving and accepting environment; I plan on continuing to volunteer there for the rest of my days as a resident of Los Angeles.”

UCLA students who are interested in getting involved or learning more about the organization can contact the Executive Director of Seeds of Hope, Tim Alderson, at talderson@ladiocese.org or by visiting the organization’s webpage.

 

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