As published in the WishBook2018 from The Mercury News
Fresh from a visit to the greenhouse and a bit of weeding in a row of radishes and pumpkins, 18 youngsters gathered to show what they’d soaked up during their field trip to the Veggielution organic farm in San Jose.
“Can someone tell me what ‘crop rotation’ is?” asked Yazmin Hernandez, the farm’s community engagement manager.
Joshua Nguyen’s hand shot up. “It’s when you plant crops to replace the other crops so that the soil becomes more rich,” the 11-year-old promptly answered.
“And what are you going to do before you ‘bomb’ someone’s house?” a laughing Hernandez asked, referring to the “flower bombs” of seeds the kids had created to take home.
“Take off the cloth first!” said Lynh Ha, 12, explaining that the seeds need to spread.
Clearly, the Citizen Schools students from Renaissance Academy at Fischer Middle School had been paying attention. This Veggielution program for youngsters — hundreds come for tours every year — aims to plant the seeds of organic farming and healthy eating.
Veggielution, which sits on six acres at Emma Prusch Farm Park, is celebrating its 10th year as a nonprofit with a mission of “connecting people from diverse backgrounds through food and farming to build community in East San Jose.” The staff and volunteers operate a community farm and farm stand with below-market prices, teaching sustainable agricultural practices, hosting children’s activities and fresh-air yoga classes, and bringing cooks and eaters together at the Veggielution Cocina.
The Cocina is a joyous gathering held on the first Saturday of the month and taught in Spanish by home cooks who have been “empowered” to share their expertise, said Rosa Contreras, the manager of Veggielution’s volunteer programs.
“It’s not a cooking class where you’re going to julienne vegetables,” she said. “It’s more of a communitycooking class. The point is to connect with other people, not to make the perfect ratatouille.”
Typically, each session draws about 25 participants — maybe locals looking to connect with other cooks, maybe parents who want to make healthier meals for their families. Recently the kitchen hosted a troop of Girl Scouts earning a merit badge by exploring world cuisines.
And naturally, every Cocina ends with a big lunch on the Veggielution pavilion featuring all the vegetarian and vegan food that’s been prepared that day. Anyone who’s working on the farm joins in.
The Cocina is always reaching out — and can do more with the help of Wish Book readers.
Hernandez ended the student session by asking who likes vegetables and who likes to cook with their parents, extending an invitation for them to join the class some weekend.
Omar Cardoza, at age 11, is already a mother’s (and Veggielution farmer’s) dream, ticking off a long list of vegetables he loves.
“Celery, carrots, chayotes, pumpkins, cilantro,” he says, explaining that his mom puts chayotes into her Caldo de Res, and he tops the stew with cilantro. “Lots.”
Showing the diversity of the community from which Veggielution draws, 13-year-old Bonnie Ngo talks of her family’s recipes — pho made with a vegetable broth and a curry filled with carrots and potatoes.
Already, the Vietnamese-American population is well represented at the farm events, including the Cocina. But there’s an opportunity to expand the offerings in that community, said Emily Schwing, the development communications manager.
“Our next phase would be to incorporate Vietnamese-specific programming” for those who may not be bilingual, she said.