By Eugenia Nicole Macias, Melissa Gallardo, and Jocelyn Ramirez
One of the most rewarding aspects about launching Todo Verde other than being able to share my recipes with everyone, has been the opportunity to work with and meet an inspiring group of women. There’s nothing better than finding a tribe of like-minded mujeres, and it’s even better to get to work with them day in and day out; sharing intriguing conversations, working on recipes together and learning the ins and outs of running a business. We operate under female driven creativity and passion for a healthier lifestyle, not just for ourselves, but for our families, friends and surrounding communities. Within the past year, we have met so many brilliant people and supporters, and our team has grown so much more than I could have ever expected. We wanted to give you all the opportunity to get to know the women that help run Todo Verde on a more personal level.
Learn about the passion that has fueled Melissa Gallardo’s journey as a Nutrition student at CalState Los Angeles. Enjoy this interview by Eugenia Nicole as she asks Melissa about her experience towards a healthier lifestyle with Todo Verde.
Born in L.A. and raised in South Gate, how has the city’s landscape affected your interest in nutrition and healthy living?
Growing up in Southeast LA meant industrial factories, freeways and train tracks were the norm. With the exception of a small park near my house and my backyard, green spaces were not part of my everyday environment. I feel fortunate that my dad has always grown food in our backyard and that it was something I always saw growing up. Over summers my parents enjoyed grilling in our backyard and it was really cool to see my dad pick a ton of vegetables from our yard and put them directly onto the grill. With the exception of cousins, I didn’t know anyone else who had this same experience.
After high school I enrolled at Humboldt State University and this was the first time I had really been away from home. It was such a culture shock. In a town where people of color were few, it was easy to feel homesick. Though the culture in Humboldt was different, I really admired the green spaces, composting on campus, community gardens and local businesses. The only restaurant chain within walking distance was Subway. If anyone wanted McDonald’s or Carl’s Jr. it required driving to the next town. I only lived in Humboldt for a year, but that was all it took to spark my interest in food and social justice. If these folks could pass city laws limiting the number of chains they wanted in their town, and have access to organic produce, community gardens, etc.; why couldn’t we? It was here I realized choosing between Jack in the Box and Burger King wasn’t a choice. The lack of good food options and health services in my hometown along with my interest in gardening are what lead me to study Nutrition.
You were lucky enough to have the space to grow your own produce growing up, has eating healthy always been a major factor to your lifestyle?
Eating healthy was not always a major factor in my life. Some of my fondest memories are of me going to McDonald’s for breakfast as a child with my mom and brother, or my friends and I spying on the ice cream truck with a dollar. It wasn’t until college, when my diet became political, that I really started to care about where I spent my money and what I chose to fuel my body. A little over a year ago, I cut out most fast food and adopted a vegetarian diet. Gardening, shopping local, keeping my own chickens and vegetarianism, has been my own way of saying no to systems that profit off of denying access to reliable health care and good quality food. The same system that profits off folks working long hours with very little pay. Eating healthy isn’t always easy, but I’m not hard on myself if I slip because it’s about being conscious about my choices. My diet isn’t perfect but the more I practice the easier it is to ditch junk food.
How supportive has your family been in the transition of this healthier lifestyle?
My parents played a huge role in helping me develop a healthier diet, and also encouraged my interest in urban gardening. Growing food myself and learning from my dad has made me want to plant more seeds. As funny as it sounds, you really do develop a connection with food.
My parents and I simultaneously began to take food a bit more seriously. My mom was never one to cook unhealthy to begin with, but they took it a step further when they cut out red meat, started buying organic produce and incorporating more vegetables and superfoods. Occasionally my mom will ask “que comida rara estas comiendo,” but both mom and dad are open to trying new things. It’s really been a learning process for all of us. My parents even began shopping at Trader Joe’s before I did! However, that also brought up the issue of access. The nearest Trader Joe’s or related supermarkets are at least 20 minutes away on the freeway which did make the transition a little difficult.
I’m very grateful for my parents and the support they’ve shown throughout this transition. I’ll admit the the majority of confused looks come from tías.
How did you first get involved with Todo Verde?
I first learned of Todo Verde through a friend (Ashley, who is now a part of the team too!) and social media. It was during a time I was beginning to have serious doubts about switching majors from nursing to nutrition. I was also really frustrated with the lack of food access in Southeast LA. Todo Verde was only a few months old, and Ashley offered Jocelyn and Todo Verde as an example of a woman-owned business with the mission of increasing access. I had been following Todo Verde for a few weeks when I decided to reach out to see if there was anything I could do to help Todo Verde’s mission. After having emailed a bit back and forth with Jocelyn, we ran into each other at Proyecto Jardin where we connected and began working together right away.
What’s the best thing you’ve learned from working at Todo Verde?
Working with Jocelyn and Todo Verde has been a lot of fun and really interesting to say the least. When I started working with Jocelyn it was mainly the two of us working the markets, along with Jocelyn’s mom and Vivi, who were also helping. It’s been a lot of fun watching Todo Verde grow, where now, although it’s still a lot of hard work, all the women that make up Todo Verde bring something fun and different to the table. If there’s anything I’ve learned with Todo Verde is that there’s always a way to make something happen, even if it needs to be improvised, postponed for a bit or if it’s not the way it was originally envisioned, though a vision is definitely necessary.
For people that are interested in gardening or learning about urban gardening, do you have any suggestions or recommendations for any city gardens?
Look at the space you have to work with and the amount of sun exposure it gets (where the sun hits the most and for how long the area gets sun). If you’re limited to an apartment, container gardening is an option but make sure to do a little research about what plants would do best with what you have. A recommended book when working with small spaces is Apartment Gardening by Amy Pennington. If you have a yard, you have more options, but I suggest to start small. Herbs or one vegetable and greens would be a great way to start exploring. There’s always something new to learn with gardening, and it’s something I am still learning. Baby steps and patience!
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