Community garden aims to do more than just beautify

Posted at 3:56 PM, Dec 09, 2021

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Food wasn’t always Fatima Malik’s top priority growing up.

“Evan as a teenager, my diet was a bag of chips, candy bar, and some soda. And that was like my dinner, and I thought that was ok,” said Malik

She was just a few weeks old when her mom made it to the United States after leaving Pakistan.

“When my mom moved to Sacramento in 1990, it was five kids and a suitcase. So you can imagine the hardships of trying to keep food on the table, a roof over your head, clothes on your back, you know, everything,” she said.

They settled in the Del Paso Vista neighborhood in Sacramento. Fatima is still here. It’s where she’s decided to lay down some roots both metaphorically and in reality.

“I’m the founder and lead organizer for the Del Paso Heights Growers Alliance,” she said, “One of the biggest things that the growers association is focused on is improving the social, economic, and environmental justice in our community. And so this part of a long-term vision is to create a yearlong food plan where we will have access to food every month of the year in our community.”

The association's goal is to feed the community, but more than that, teach them how to feed themselves.

“Food banks and the idea of giving food away is very important. However, I think that is a band-aid to a larger situation,” she said, “People need land and water, first and foremost, access to be able to begin to grow things that are culturally and linguistically appropriate for themselves. That I think is moving beyond food as a charity model and not even moving beyond food insecurity to food sovereignty.”

According to the USDA, 13.8 million US households will be food insecure in 2020. That includes 6.1 million children.

“We don’t want our community to go hungry, and that’s why we grow food, and we share it at no cost,” said Jessica Lainez, a volunteer with the grower's association.

“One day, I volunteered at the garden, and I was inspired to not only give back but to think about the ways I buy my food or grow my food,” said Lainez.

In addition to volunteering, Lainez eats some of the harvests as well. Her time in the garden has reframed her perspective.

“So it made me think about potentially growing my garden and be like, I know where it is coming from. I can pull this off whenever I want as opposed to the idea you always need to get your food from a grocery store," said Lainez.

Malik estimates the gardens produce up to 250 lbs of food a year which she thinks can feed close to 50 families. She hopes this is just the beginning.

“This is just level one of just getting plants in the ground, waiting that five years to kind of have food. Now the next level, how do we now manufacture or preserve this food and create an added value where maybe now we are processing this food, or storing it, or canning it for long term use or in storage,” said Malik.