Los Angeles

Getting ready for the journey

Emily has penned the following entry as she prepares to travel from Los Angeles to Italy for a fellowship at the University of Gastronomic Sciences:

Here it goes…this is my first blog post!

It is now a few days until we leave and last Friday was the first in a series of many good-byes. I went to a party for the LA Sprouts program that we recently started at the Milagro Allegro garden. LA Sprouts is an after-school program we designed for 4th and 5th graders in Highland Park that is focused around cooking and gardening in order to prevent obesity. This project, which we launched about a month ago, has been an inspiring example of community collaboration – we have volunteers from USC’s Childhood Obesity Research Center (CORC) where I work, Milagro Allegro Garden itself, Homegirl Cafe, and the Master Gardeners, as well as support from many organizations including Slow Food LA, Anolon Cookware, and Whole Foods.

I can’t express how much I love working with the kids at the garden. I am not so sure about being referred to as Dr. V (for Ventura), which is how the kids call me, but am loving seeing how much more receptive they are to trying new vegetables at the garden compared to the students I have taught in a classroom. One of my favorite moments at LA Sprouts was when I asked the kids how they would rate (on a scale of 1-10) the salad we made out of kale, radishes, oranges, and feta (not a typical kid-friendly combo). The lowest answer was 9, and my favorite response was “20, because WE made it!” This whole experience is bringing me back to working at the Edible Schoolyard as an intern back in ’98, which was a major turning point for me. That same sense of magic is coming back 12 years later, and it seems appropriate that I am getting back to what initially inspired me in this field after 6 intense years of working at USC and doing my MPH and PhD in Preventive Medicine.

So tonight, Nicole, aka Dr. G, the garden director and one of the co-leaders of the project, invited us all over to her house, which is across from the garden. She made an amazing tortilla soup, a salad from the garden, and two cakes – lemon olive oil and flourless chocolate. Jaimie, aka Dr. D, who is leading the LA Sprouts effort, gave a goodbye toast that expressed just what I was thinking: We are finally doing what we have been wanting to do here in LA for so long. It is tough to be leaving LA when I feel like I am just starting in on a project that I love so much, getting even more involved in Slow Food LA, and finally feeling rooted in the community. Am I really leaving now? But as I drove away tonight, I was content.

One thing that is encouraging me the most is that one of my first nutrition students, Tatiana, who has since become a friend, came with me to the garden today and will be volunteering in my place each week while I am gone. And as Lisa, a mentor and friend from Slow Food LA reminded me, I am not really leaving, just taking a little 9-month sabbatical of sorts. I will definitely be in touch, and am looking forward to bringing what I learn back to LA. For example, Nicole just heard that she is receiving a donation of a custom-built pizza oven for the garden, so part of my mission will be to do some R&D for pizza recipes while Paul and I are in Italy. That is definitely a mission that I will happily accomplish. After all, how can I be feeling sad? We are moving to Italy of all places!!!

Now, I guess it is time to think about packing!