A group of graduate students from Cal State Long Beach is studying to see if urban gardening in West Long Beach could compensate for a lack of access to fresh food in a side of town with fewer supermarkets, particularly for older adults.

After speaking with Westside residents, five social work students found that older adults have a hard time accessing fresh produce in their area due to the lack of big-chain supermarkets, said Ariday Avellaneda, one of the students on the research team.

Many West Long Beach residents have said repeatedly that they usually have to drive to Albertson’s in the Wrigley neighborhood. Older adults usually walk or take public transit to get around. Barriers like distance make it especially difficult for older adults to access fresh food, the students argue.

“The common trend that was coming up was food insecurity, especially for older adults because we noticed that the roads were a little damaged, the transportation isn’t as reliable and [West Long Beach has] an older community there,” Avellaneda said. “That’s when we noticed that there was a big discrepancy between access to healthy foods.”

West, Central and North Long Beach, which are areas with low-income communities and limited sources of fresh food, are considered food deserts. Parts of West Long Beach also fall within their food desert census tract, which it defines as a low-income tract where a substantial number or substantial share of residents does not have easy access to a supermarket or large grocery store, according to federal data. A past 2019 CSULB report also shows that food deserts largely affect communities of color.

Citywide, Long Beach officials have implemented initiatives to increase access to healthy food, such as its Long Beach Healthy Market Partnership Program.

In the meantime, these students say they’re trying to find solutions to food insecurity in West Long Beach. This way, older adults “can access healthy food and grow it on their own,” Avellaneda said.

In partnership with Casa Chaskis, a Peruvian restaurant on Santa Fe Avenue, and Jeff Rowe, a master gardener and business consultant in the West Long Beach, CSULB graduate students will run a project where they teach people ages 55 and older to garden at the kitchen garden behind Casa Chaskis during Saturdays this month.

The programming will include a curriculum on identifying healthy food sources, and Rowe will lead the gardening activities. The group’s intention is also to have other social work students keep the programming going after the student’s master’s program is completed due to the fact that the community gardens that are available in West Long Beach, such as the Mary Molina Community Garden and the Hudson Park Community Garden require lot fees, which could be another barrier, the students said.

“We want to bring a sense of togetherness while having access to healthy and fresh food because we know it could get really expensive,” Avellaneda said.

Dates for the programming will take place on March 12, 19 and 26 from 7 to 10 a.m. at Casa Chaskis at 2380 Santa Fe Ave.

Melissa Velasquez, another student leading the project, said that if there is a surplus of applicants to the program, Rowe will take in extra participants after the students’ programming is complete.

“We don’t want to leave anyone behind,” Velasquez said. Future gardening at the site could also serve the restaurant owner as he sought regular volunteers to help harvest and maintain his garden.

This three-day project will also allow these graduate students to release a report on the effectiveness of urban gardening for older adults in areas experiencing food insecurity after having surveyed the participants in the workshops.

Existing research showed the students that collaborative groups could also offer benefits to mental health for older adults, who often experience depression and isolation.

The students anticipate releasing their findings in April.

For more information, contact Ariday Avellaneda at 562-264-5832 or [email protected]

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