Since 2017, Blue Sky Center has facilitated the Cuyama Valley food action network, leading participatory-design processes for community development, and instigating grassroots culinary and nutritional programs for our Cuyama Valley communities. Our team believes that by establishing a strong food system in the Cuyama Valley, our rural communities can build a pathway to become more inclusive, ultimately establishing a resilient environmental, social, and economic ecosystem in the Cuyama Valley.
The Cuyama Victory Gardens Project
The project began after the onset of the global pandemic, utilizes a garden-to-table model to provide opportunities for immersive and intergenerational learning, empowering families to find food security within their own backyards. With educational and material support children and parents are growing food in their gardens that will both complement and expand their family’s palate. For example, a family might grow tomatillos, chiles, and onions for use in dishes that are familiar staples in the collective diet, alongside zucchini or carrots, ingredients with perhaps undiscovered culinary potential and nutritional value.
Blue Sky Center’s approach to promoting holistic human flourishing in our community is to continue fortifying what exists within the Valley by identifying local champions and developing resources that establish resiliency. It is through watching seeds turn to sprouts and preparing a meal with homegrown ingredients that we realize what gardening represents: a vibrant and significant center of a larger conversation. The garden is a practical site where families will begin to see, smell, hear, touch, and taste the abundance that is possible in their own backyards and in the wider community.
At the outset of this project, Sandra Uribe was acting as an essential part of the Blue Sky Center staff in a housekeeping and groundskeeping role. As time wore on it became increasingly evident that Sandra is the most in her element when tending to the outdoor portions of our facilities. Little did we know that, in the Cuyama Valley community, Sandra is well known as the “plant lady,” and community members would often cluck and shake their heads in a kind of unsurprised admiration upon learning that Sandra would be taking on the role of primary Community Coordinator for the Victory Gardens project. Blue Sky counts it as an extraordinary stride in our organizational capacity-building whenever we are able to act on this kind of resounding “yes!” from our stakeholders and uplift a local champion to both explore their self-defined professional identity and bolster their existing work in the community. From the beginning of this project Sandra has proven her extraordinary skill and management competency time and time again, and she has since been promoted to a new position at Blue Sky Center with the title of Land Steward. Within the context of the Victory Gardens project, specifically, we hoped that the mentorship of the Community Coordinator role model would reinforce the appeal and social importance of the outdoor garden “classroom.” As Sandra often reminds us, “Las personas son como las plantas.” (“People are like plants.”) With this in mind we have worked to develop a garden program that does not overemphasize the transmission of facts but that instead capitalizes on investing in a social network where knowledge is shared in a manner that flows out of the culture of the Valley itself.