Veg­gielu­tion teaches fam­i­lies about healthy eat­ing, cook­ing.

San Jose’s Veg­gielu­tion com­mu­nity farm teaches fam­i­lies about healthy eat­ing, cook­ing, and it’s look­ing to ex­pand

The Mercury News Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - By Linda Za­vo­ral lza­vo­[email protected]­yare­anews­group.com

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 com­mu­nity cook­ing 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.

NHAT V. MEYER — STAFF PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Yazmin Her­nan­dez, com­mu­nity en­gage­ment man­ager at Veg­gielu­tion, helps stu­dents make “flower bombs,” soil packed with flower seeds.

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