ONTARIO, Calif. — In Ontario, a portion of Anthony Munoz Park has been repurposed as a community garden. It was a project driven by the vision and green thumb of Elizabeth McSwain.
Now, the Seeds of Joy Community Garden is a place where low-income families in Ontario can come plant, care for and harvest their own produce at no cost. The garden currently supports 31 families. The project's goal is to break down the barriers to healthy living.
“Our ultimate goal is to improve social equity, which means that now, the residents there are engaging with their neighbors differently,” explained McSwain.
Jeanette Seneviratne was the first to receive a garden plot.
“It's taught me about different types of herbs and spices as well as teas and fruits and veggies that [I] could bring home and use to cook fresh, fresh fruits for the children and my husband as well,” she said.
McSwain has seen firsthand how health issues among lower-income families can be changed with improved access to healthier food options.
“She just communicated how impactful it's going to be that she doesn't have to choose between taking her income to buy organic produce, she can actually pay a bill,” said McSwain.
She hopes that by the end of 2022, the garden will provide produce to hundreds of families.
“It takes a village, this could not happen if it wasn’t for the collaboration of all of our partners,” McSwain said.
Al Boling spent years working for the city of Ontario, and in his retirement, he’s been helping McSwain bring this vision to life.
“Oh, it was remarkable to see the energy and the excitement that Liz brings to a project like this, in order to ensure its sustainability, not just in the plants," Boling said, "but just in living through all of the lives that can be impacted and changed as a result of teaching healthy habits, fitness, yoga, Zumba, meditation, and as well as just eating habits."
McSwain is working hard to cultivate the concept of healthy living above the soil too. Through her own Caramel Connections Foundation she created a community calendar full of gardening and cooking classes, health seminars and fitness activities. The foundation intends to present an all-encompassing approach to health and wellness education.
“Why? Because every day we're born again. And the only thing that matters is what we do today. And so as a family, we feel as though when we make money in a community, we're supposed to give back,” said McSwain.
For more information on the Seeds of Joy, and other wellness programs associated with the community garden visit: caramelconnections.org.