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Vallejo partnership getting community members to taste the rainbow

Vallejo People’s Garden founder Vilma Aquino and Kaiser physician Dr. Sarah Jones shares a common goal — to get people to eat the rainbow.

The rainbow, a diet that includes healthy foods, herbs and produce, could be made up of the flower petals. Aquino might offer someone while giving them a tour of the garden. That might include the calendula, collard green, or rosemary flowers.

The community garden has stood on Mare Island since 2009, and since 2014 it’s also served as a community volunteer site for medical students pursuing family medicine accreditation through the Kaiser Permanente Napa-Solano Family Medicine Residency Program.

At the root of the program is a message Kaiser began marketing itself with during the residency’s inaugural year: That its health care providers have an understanding of “glocality,” a mashup of “global” and “local,” in order to serve diverse communities. , such as Vallejo.

Medical students from Touro University previously helped in starting the garden; Aquino said she sees the partnership with Kaiser as an extension that began in 2014 after having received an email request for collaboration from a former Vallejo physician.

Residents participate in weekly volunteer work and are required to complete a two-week community medicine rotation during the second of their three years in the program.

Some of the options for residents to volunteer at include La Clínica Vallejo and the community garden. Residents can also volunteer internationally, with opportunities in Latin America, Vietnam and Africa.

“This was part of our residency DNA,” Jones said. “We really want to pay back the community where we serve locally and be involved with our community to raise the health awareness, as well as health status, of the patients that we serve.”

Aquino said she was enthusiastic about the proposal from the start in part because she understood that the first-hand learning experiences for the residents would translate to them recommending healthy foods to patients.

The partnership also plays a part in addressing an issue that has challenged Vallejo for more than a decade: promoting and getting healthy foods to low-income parts of the city.

The Food Empowerment Project, a national nonprofit based in San Luis Obispo, found in a 2019 report that higher-income parts of Vallejo had easier access to grocery stores than lower-income neighborhoods — the city, overall, also lacks access to fruits and vegetables .

Aquino grows produce that is healthy for residents to inform patients on — she grows Jerusalem artichoke, which is low in sugar, and uses it to make faux-mashed potatoes — and she promotes the physicality of gardening itself.

“I prescribe medication all the time. But you know what my greatest joy is? To get people off medicines,” Jones said. “My greatest joy is to help people have that ‘a-ha’ moment, that they can be empowered to have the life that they want, with fewer medicines, through their lifestyle.”

The garden has been the venue for residency graduations and parties, but one of its more sentimental attachments is a tree honoring early residency program graduate Ethan Sellers, who died in a car crash three years ago on the fourth of July — less than a week after. graduating.

Part of the garden’s beauty, Aquino said, is the emotional benefit it provides to visitors. It’s why she’s working with the city’s military veterans to host potlucks and opportunities to do volunteer work.

Kaiser’s program also requires residents to conduct a community research project. Past focuses have been on academic burnout and sexually transmitted disease transmission rates. Jones said the garden’s partnership with local veterans could offer students a new focus area: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“With PTSD, being in nature helps them,” Aquino said, “because they act like little kids when they come in here. I don’t know what it is — something magical happens.”


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