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5 Minutes with: Salina Perry, SIMI at the Garden Founder

groundbreaking with the mayor and councilmember and salina

As an internship project in her senior year, Salina Perry has founded "SIMI at the Garden," a community garden project where people can get exercise, grow healthy nutritious foods, make new friends and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine.

As Salina dropped her son off at his school every day, she noticed a far section of a playing field that no one was using. Since she's a Health Sciences/Public Health student, she's always looking for ways to promote public health and well being, so she talked to the school principal and asked if she could use the land for a community garden project.

He liked the idea, so she discussed it with her faculty mentor at CSUN, Gretta Madjzoob. "I saw the sparkle in Salina's eyes when she asked about doing the community garden project as an internship," Madjzoob said, "and she had her plans ready for our meeting. I believe that the project is a true application of community health action and community organization, and I'm personally so delighted that the impact of the project will benefit the community beyond the internship experience."

An employee of Simi Valley Hospital since 1995 (phlebotomist) she is the mother of two sons, aged 5 and 2, she volunteers at the free clinic in Simi and educates about childhood diabetes management.

Q: How did you pitch the idea to your Dr. Madjzoob?

A: I started developing the idea in an English class, with [instructor] Kathryn Leslie, learning how to write proposals. This project was something I really wanted to do. I showed how a community garden would benefit public health by increasing physical activity, getting schoolchildren and their parents working together, creating opportunities for community service, and of course growing healthy nutritious foods. So I developed the idea further and took it to Dr. Madjzoob.

She asked a lot of questions, but I think when she saw how well planned out the project was, I think she saw the public health benefits that I saw, well obviously she did, because she got the approval of the department chair, Dr. Brian Malec. We also have two other CSUN students using the garden project for their internships.

using heavy equipment to dig first garden plots

Q: How did the other internships come about?

A: I took Dr. Kathleen Young's Community Building class (HSCI 439) and when I presented the idea to Dr. Madjzoob, she allowed the students to do the internships at the garden.

Q: You know what's needed to build the garden, what role does Dr. Madjzoob play in the project?

A: She is helping me keep a focus on the academic side, which is great because it would be easy to get lost in some of the details and lose sight of the overview with a project like this. But the public health and health education focus keeps me asking myself: 'how can this help the well being of the community?' Dr. Madjzoob and I are always checking back with each other: am I meeting this objective, am I making sure to address the requirements of my academic community health competencies?

Q: You saw the fallow land on your son's schoolyard, but what else motivated you to do this project?

volunteers digging garden plots

A: We live in a condo. I wanted to have a garden. I looked at all the condos around where the school is and thought, 'I can't be the only one who feels this way.' Plus, I wanted my kids to have the experience of growing their own food and making family dinners together of fruits and vegetables we grew ourselves.

Q: Do your kids like vegetables?

A: Yes, they do and they're good eaters - our five year old, Jaden, chose the vegetable tray over apple pie - and our two year old Mikey did too!

Q: What happens when people come together to build a community garden?

A: They start out thinking of the immediate work ahead of them, but as they dig, hammer, water, they start making friends, learning subtle cooperative skills. This happens to kids, and it also happens with parents. Community gardens give hands-on education to kids and raise awareness about sustainable living. And community gardens are environmentally friendly - they significantly reduce the carbon footprints of those who utilize them. We use recycled materials, we compost, and we'll be featuring native drought resistant plants.

Q: Is this an organic garden?

A: All organic! No pesticides!

Q: How many people can participate?

A: We're in the building phases but we will have 200 plots - and seventy people have already signed up.

basket of fresh vegetables

Q: And what about the community members who aren't so hands-on, but are also involved?

A: The basis of a community project is you don't do it alone. But when it's your project you are responsible for making sure all the elements fall into place. I was met with so much enthusiasm; the Simi Valley Adventist Church and School, my son's school, generously allocated 2.3 acres of land for the garden. Mayor Bob Huber and the Simi Valley City Council are supportive, too. In fact, the mayor was there for the groundbreaking ceremony at the beginning of February. Our Chairman of the Board is Darin Gaines who is an architect, and we've had award winning soil donated to us by Agromin.

Q: The Simi Valley Adventist Church and School is providing the land. Is that the extent of their role?

A: They're also planning to let us use the school's campus center for cooking classes - once the vegetables and herbs are ready.

Q: What kind of project development to you envision?

A: We're now registered as a 501C-3 non-profit organization, and as the garden project develops, I'm seeing it as an outdoor community wellness center. We hope to have yoga and wellness classes on site. We want to create setting to allow families, friends and neighbors time together to create wellness. We're even thinking of ways to bring in seniors from the local seniors' center to enjoy some gardening time.

Benefits of Community Gardens:
 -Improves the quality of life for people in the garden
 -Provides a catalyst for neighborhood and community development
 -Stimulates Social Interaction
 -Encourages Self-Reliance
 -Beautifies Neighborhoods
 -Produces Nutritious Food
 -Reduces Family Food Budgets
 -Conserves Resources
 -Creates opportunity for recreation, exercise, therapy, and education
 -Reduces Crime
 -Preserves Green Space
 -Creates income opportunities and economic development
 -Reduces city heat from streets and parking lots
 -Provides opportunities for intergenerational and cross-cultural connections
 -Community greening in urban and rural communities

The Health Education program in CSUN Health Sciences has over 40 interns working in the community in various capacities getting real world experience to enhance their academic programs

- Jean O'Sullivan