OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — From a young age, Cecilia Saavedra enjoyed the outdoors with her mom and grandma. They're the ones who planted the seed in her head to love gardening.
“I've always been very hands-on,” she said. “I feel like, just working with the plants and outdoors, I was able to feel very comfortable. It was my passion and I wanted to make something out of my passion as a career.”
She graduated from Metro Community College’s horticulture land systems management program and is now studying environmental science at the University of Nebraska Omaha (UNO) to become a food policy researcher.
Her goal is for everyone to have access to healthy foods — especially in the Latino community where she saw struggling firsthand during the pandemic.
“I think what we learned during this time is that there's a lot of low-income families that are unable to afford food and having access to food in their garden will help them out in being self-sufficient in the future,” she said.
Since last March, Cecilia has grown into an agriculture leader in the community.
“I noticed a lot of the need in the community so I started helping communities start their own urban farm,” she said. “This past year, I started one for UNO and we're going to be dedicating that for college students who are food insecure. I did a lot of food distributions and then teaching people in the community how to grow their own food and how to grow their own plants.”
She also works as a garden coordinator for the Latino Center of the Midlands’ Siembra Salud Program and helps to provide free groceries and deliveries to the elderly, the immunocompromised and undocumented and low-income families.
In her backyard alone, she and her family grow over 1,800 pounds of food to distribute to her community.
She also makes sure there are plenty of culturally appropriate foods and plants.
“Each culture has their own preferred foods, or fruits and vegetables, so I want to make sure that they have that,” she said. “It's part of food sovereignty and making sure that they're able to have the fruits and vegetables that they had growing up in their home countries.”
In the future, she wants to focus on improving and dedicating food policies towards Black, Indigenous and people of color that will give them equal access to healthy foods.
“Essentially, for everybody to have access to SNAP. Doesn't matter whether immigration status. I just want everyone to have access to food,” she said. “At the end of the day, we're all human and that's what matters because it's sad when a community member is unable to afford food or unable to get it.”
She wants to see communities move forward not only in regards to food, but with healing as well.
“To use gardening as a therapy to overcome a lot of these intergenerational traumas that they have,” she said. “Gardening is a nice form of therapy for healing and we want our communities to heal using the power of plants.”