The “Gospel Garden” and a recipe for Salsa Con Queso

Early winter of 2016 myself and enlisted help including Cody Simar of Central Valley Sustainability and my dear husband met with the director at the Modesto Gospel Mission to discuss a future community garden at their existing 1 acre plot surrounded by employee housing, and located a block behind the mission itself.

Approaching the site I knew this was the spot. Since this time we have been blessed to have many hands volunteer and come together to donate, plant, care for and harvest from this garden. We have affectionately named our garden the “Gospel Garden.”

Some crops have not worked out, we have had weeds overtake some of our lettuce and tomatoes. We have put in a lot of work to keep up with our first year at this new site. Yet, every time I visit the garden, when I feel overwhelmed at the work, at the weeds, at what needs to be done and when I can barely keep up with the kids, animal, and yard at home, I come away with a sense of calm. Chris, a resident at the mission, will usually stroll out and remind me of just how much the garden is giving. He tells me he places tomatoes in neighbors mailboxes up and down the street; that families in the community come to garden and pick lettuce, peppers or tomatoes. Rita a volunteer informs me that the salad bar at the mission has never looked so good. (I owe a huge thank you to Westurf Nursery, Rick Grey of Plant a Seed Foundation and Waterford Irrigation Supply Inc as well as many others!!)

We had the opportunity to have a local Girl Scout troop visit our garden and we took along children from the mission as well. It was a day of discovery for many kids, including one young girl who informed me this was he first trip off the mission without her parents. As we took the five minute walk from the Children’s Center holding hands I couldn’t help but feel prideful as people peered from their windows in a neighborhood that is constantly on the look out for what is wrong, and instead catching a glimpse of what is right.

On one field trip morning, I remember feeling particularly overwhelmed and disappointed; that the corn had all died, that weeds were overtaking our garden, and that there was a huge leak in our drip causing mud and more weeds to grow among the melons. As I took the kids to the garden that same day I was again reminded of of useless our doubts are.  The kids could have cared less about the weeds, or the dried up corn, instead they exclaimed over tomatoes, melons, and bravely tasted jalapenos. One boy asked with hope, “Can we come next week again, and bring cheese this time for the tomatoes!” The joy this boy had found here replaced any feelings of failure I had had just an hour ago. What a reminder that God requires of us not to be perfect, but to simply give what we can and look for the blessings in each small thing; and that all our anxieties need to be reexamined, surrendered to and handed over to something much greater than ourselves. Something that says its ok, and that is satisfied with the smile and thank you of a child.

In looking for a delicious and versatile way to use our tomatoes and jalapenos harvested on our last field trip with the Children’s Center, I thought of Salsa Con Queso. This one is dedicated to Angela who gives her heart and soul to her kids at the mission, who made an amazing salsa to share with the Children’s Center, (made from vegetables from the Gospel Garden), and and who loves cheese. I give you the best of both worlds. img_1652

img_1653

Salsa Con Queso

  • 6-10 Ripe Tomatoes (of any variety)
  • 5 Jalapenos (more or less depending on desire for heat) Cored
  • 3 Large Garlic Cloves
  • 1 Large White Onion
  • 3 Large Squash (yellow or zuchinni)
  • 1/2 Head Roasted Cauliflower (optional)
  • 3 Tbsp Butter
  • 3 Tbsp Flour
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 Cups shredded cheddar cheese or blend.
  • 1/2 C Greek Yogurt (see recipe for homemade)

Directions: Coarsely chop all vegetables. In heavy bottomed pot heat vegetables with salt until softened. Add butter, melt and then add flour. Simmer until easily pierced with fork. Use immersion blender to puree vegetables.

May use blender for smoother consistency, cool to room temp before blending. Add Cheese and yogurt. Stir until melted and incorporated. Serve and enjoy! Use as a dip for bread, crackers, or chips. Best served warm. Try on your favorite sandwiches, tacos or as pasta sauce tossed with olive oil.

Art to FEED; “Community Hearts” and the Children’s Center at Modesto Gospel Mission

img_9466

Myself, Lilly and the lovely Angela, a volunteer at the center. 

Sometimes reality can  hit you hard. Going to the Modesto Gospel Mission to volunteer at their children’s center one evening with a group from church, I remember thinking, will there really be a need? Do we have too many volunteers to really help, will we be standing around, wanting to be helpful but doing so in vain. Many different thoughts come up whenever we try to do something of value. We start to believe all the negative voices, the ones that keep us from getting up and out to help. The sad reality is our world is a fallen one and the need is overwhelming. In entering the children’s center I had to take a seat. I was hit with this reality that exists in my own back yard. Children, infants, families without hope. I also write this having lost a childhood friend last month, after drug addiction and living on the streets ended in tragedy.  I don’t believe you need a worldly perspective to look around your own community and know things aren’t right.

Modesto is increasing in it’s population of homelessness,(Modesto Bee, August 2015). An increase in alcoholism, drug addiction, low literacy rates and mental illness seems to be only fueling this problem. It is easy for many to ignore this issue, how would one even begin to help?  One only has to drive down the La Loma neighborhood of Modesto, an area I used to ride bikes as a child, and one can see this growing problem first hand. The Modesto Gospel Mission exists here to help, and the children’s center offers a safe place for children who otherwise would have nowhere to go but out on the streets. This is a home to many, a community to many. It is at times a chaotic and volatile place, but there are much needed rules, structure, warmth and encouragement. The Mission has aims to improve community with a larger medical facility, women’s center and a newly purchased warehouse in order to teach skills for employment to its participants in their program. We donated our “Community Hearts” painting, done at the Homestead Market Fair in Ripon, CA. The painting was done by the community, who all painted their “hearts” as a symbol of support for the children’s center at the Modesto Gospel Mission.

Many homeless desire to work and be productive. Art to Feed has a vision in line with our philosophy that connecting people with food and agriculture improves community. This year we plan to create a small maintainable garden providing fresh produce for a salad bar daily for the children, women and men that come to the mission for meals. The garden will also teach skills and allow for a positive environment for the residents and the community that surround the garden. We also hope to incorporate some children’s programs with the help of a local garden club. We envision the garden growing every year and possibly leading to the selling of produce at local farmers markets, providing employment and skills for our homeless community. There have been successful models with a similar concept by Sol Food Street Farms, and we can only aspire towards this. For now a garden. I am not naive to think that this will solve all of our problems. But its a small step, and as one resident said in hearing of our plans, a much needed bit of “life.” Giving something living to take care of and watch thrive in an environment that is so accustomed to  failure is enough of a step for me and one I cant wait to get started.

If you are interested in donating towards the garden I will be having an art show thru February at the Carolyn Huff Gallery in Modesto, also a part of the down town art walk. All proceeds will be used to fund this garden. If you are interested in volunteering for the Modesto Gospel Mission, or just to learn more you can attend their monthly tours, and visit them online to learn more or donate at http://modestogospelmission.org/

 

Art to Feed; “Community Hearts” and the Parent Resource Center

img_8380

The Parent Resource Center of Modesto 

You don’t need to drive far to see need in our community. Often we are unsure of how to help. We feel we can’t help or we simply have too much in our own lives that helping others is last on our list. However just being there for your family and friends is enough to improve community. If everyone took care of themselves, their neighbors their children what a better world we would have. So much of our world’s problems comes from hurt, pain and a lack of understanding. We really don’t know why the man on the corner is without a home. We can guess, we can judge. Or we can simply choose to use what little we have to help. While we need to protect our resources and our energy, I also think it’s within our ability and our responsibility to take care of those in need. Not needing a reason, other than because we are fellow human beings. When we start believing we are better and the other is less deserving, what a slippery slope that is. Compassion its wants needed, even when you donate or give time and get nothing in return. All the drama is just a distraction, let’s use what we have and make the most of our abilities to help those we come in contact day-to-day. If you feel inclined beyond that seek out opportunities to help. Modesto has one of the highest crime rates in America, including violent crimes (Neighbor Hood Scout.com, 2016). According to the Census Bureau website, close to 28 % of our residents live below the poverty level. Our county has double the average illiteracy rate, approx 16 % do not speak english well, and homelessness rates are rising. I want to share this not to depress you or further convince you that Modesto needs help, but to shed some light on the fact that we have such an amazing rich agriculture region and yet we are so disconnected from the reality that lives “further down the road.”

The Parent Resource Center lies in the heart of Modesto. In the heart of a community littered with trash  and an abandoned gas station sits next door. Highway 99 is heard rushing by outside it’s front door. It could have no better location, it sits neatly to give direction to those in need. To help families so desperate for support. They have new mother programs, family literacy programs, a pantry and clothing. They have child care during classes, education for youth and teen parents. They also offer a program called “Hero’s for Change” to provide nutritional education to families. I was pleased to support their cause at the Art Walk in Turlock, CA this August. The community, both young and old painted their hearts on a canvas as they learned more about the Parent Resource Center and their programs.

The painting was then pulled together by myself and donated as a symbol of community love and support, as well as encouragement that they will reach many more families in need. I pray we can all take small steps and use what  little valuable time we have to put others first. I am blessed to be able to have the resources to give, and pray for an improved community.

img_8382

Donation of “Community Hearts” Painting at The Parent Resource Center with some of the wonderful staff who lovingly serve our community. 

“Community Hearts” for the Modesto Pregnancy Center

 

img_8349

Some of the wonderful staff at Modesto Pregnancy Center with our “Community Hearts” painting

Its funny even now writing this I lack confidence. I am slowly but surely gaining confidence in my faith. My faith is winning, and the judgments of others seem to matter less.

I want to share my experience not to shock you but to share a hard truth. As a new nurse practitioner I decided to work at a women’s health clinic to gain skills and knowledge that would help me in my career. I was excited to help women and empowered. This clinic also offered medication abortion. I justified working there by thinking that I could help prevent women from having an abortion through educating them and offering family planning. The clinic turned out to be a machine. My visits were shortened as we were required to see more and more patients each week. The women’s faces who so desperately needed time became a blur as I ran form room to room, and it never stopped. The next step in clinical training was to learn how to perform ultra sounds. I was sent to a busier clinic where ultrasounds were done frequently. Little did I know what I was in store for. The day was like walking in a fog after witnessing a train wreck. I was to follow a doctor around and do ultrasounds on women who were being seen  for surgical abortion. Surgical abortion can be preformed up to 20 weeks gestation. If you have never seen what 20 weeks gestation looks like, well its like looking at a fully formed baby. I witnessed everything. I had to know the pain of this, the heart ache, the sudden loss and the trauma of it all. By the end of the morning the doctor had preformed numerous abortions on drugged up women without barely speaking a word. His apron was red. A young girl was rushed to hospital for possible perforation of her uterus during the procedure. The last patient was a 25 year old who was having her 10th surgical abortion. She asked for an ultra sound picture of the baby. The image haunts me. The next day the clinic was going to same day abortion; where a woman would not be required to make an appointment and return after being educated about procedure, but would simply have an abortion done that very day. At noon the recovery room was full. I cried and shook all the way home at what I had witnessed. I gave my notice the next day.

Many patients believed this clinic  was their only resource for a pregnancy test, birth control, and care. Modesto Pregnancy Center exists as an alternative. They have ultrasound technicians, a nurse practitioner and offer pregnancy testing as well as resources for a healthy supported pregnancy. They are there to give women time, rest, and the ability to know that they are loved and have options for their unborn child. The collaborative painting we did during our women’s bible study serves as a symbol of our love and support for all the Modesto Pregnancy Center offers those enduring the crisis of an unplanned pregnancy. I pray for continued community support and the ability to reach many more in need.