For Shannon Snook, a student at University of Southern California (USC) Keck School of Medicine, gardening and cooking aren’t just a hobby – they are a powerful means of achieving health and happiness, as well as strengthening family bonds.
“My grandparents grew up gardening on family farms,” Snook says. “Being able to talk about gardening, swapping tips, and exchanging recipes helped transcend generational differences and really gave us a medium for learning from each other.”
As a Schweitzer Fellow, Snook decided to explore that medium’s full potential. She partnered with Clinica Romero to develop a holistic Schweitzer service project that uses gardening as a tool for education on seasonality, cooking, nutrition, healthy lifestyle choices, and that uses cooking as a means of strengthening communities by celebrating culture, family, and the earth.
Why did you decide to develop your particular project?
As a medical student, I see patients every week who don’t have the resources to make healthy lifestyle choices. Often the limiting factor is not enough money, education, or support. Knowing that prevention of obesity, diabetes, and other preventable diseases lead to happier, healthier communities, I was motivated to find a creative way of empowering the underserved community around Los Angeles County Hospital and USC Keck School of Medicine.
During my transition from undergraduate school to medical school, I discovered how much I love gardening and cooking with fresh produce. I began starting plants from seeds and giving them away to family and friends for them to grow and cook with. Gardening and cooking became the common denominator that helped us honor traditions and brought our family closer together.
I wanted to share this passion with my patients and community. I hoped to create a holistic approach to health that uses gardening as a tool for education on seasonality, cooking, nutrition, healthy lifestyle choices, and strengthening communities by using food as a medium for celebrating culture, family, and the earth. Since I’ve had a lot of previous experience working with and teaching children, I thought it would be great to create classes for 5-13 year olds that would incorporate gardening, nutrition, and cooking to help have an impact on the health of the children and their families.
What do you hope will be the lasting impact of your project on the community it serves?
My hope is to empower patients to make sustainable lifestyle changes that they can pass on to their family and friends to create a large-scale change in the health and happiness of our community. I want this to be fun and exciting as well as educational and motivating. I believe we can use gardening not only as an educational tool, but as a means of paying tribute to cultural traditions that help connect families and bring them together during the growing, cooking, and eating of delicious, fresh, inexpensive, healthy food. I would love to see this program continue to thrive and grow to other community clinics and community organizations.
What do you think is the most pressing health-related issue of our time, and how do you think it should be addressed?
So many of our current health problems are preventable, yet we continue to hear about climbing rates of obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. I believe many people just don’t know how to incorporate better health practices into their daily lives. Getting people to make the connection between what they eat, how they feel, and the impact of their food choices on their health requires national support and tireless effort on everyone’s part. We can continue to design more comprehensive nutritional education that incorporates cooking and gardening at all schools and partner with community organizations to target adults as well.
Another part of the problem is the ability to buy fresh produce. Many people live in food deserts, where they can only purchase food at a convenience store and don’t have access to fresh, inexpensive produce. Farmer’s markets can fill some of this void, but more urban gardening will also help bring local, healthy food to more people.
What has been the most surprising element of your experience as a Schweitzer Fellow so far?
I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much support and encouragement I’ve received thoughout this process. When I approached Clinica Romero to design classes for 5-13 year olds to teach them about nutrition, cooking, and gardening, I never imagined how willing people were to help make these classes a reality. Finding people who share my enthusiasm and are willing to sacrifice their time and energy has made this project a success.
I’ve also loved watching the children try new foods, like yellow squash or citrus salad dressing, and seeing that they start getting excited to try these new recipes at home. I can see the little seeds of more adventurous eating growing, and it energizes me even during my most hectic weeks.
What does being a Schweitzer Fellow (and ultimately, Fellow for Life) mean to you?
Being a Schweitzer Fellow is truly humbling. The great resources, diversity, and inspiration gained from being a part of the Schweitzer Fellowship program allow me to use my passions to give back to my community in a meaningful, sustainable way long after the one-year Fellowship is over.
Shannon Snook is a Schweitzer Fellow for Life from Los Angeles, CA. Click here to read more about the Los Angeles Schweitzer Fellows Program and the Fellows like Snook it supports in creating and carrying out yearlong direct service projects. To make a gift to The Albert Schweitzer Fellowship in honor of Snook’s efforts to use gardening as a tool to strengthen families and communities, click here.
Each week, Beyond Boulders delivers a new installment of “Five Questions for a Fellow” – an interview series with Schweitzer Fellows across the country and in Gabon, Africa who are leading the movement to eliminate health disparities. For an archive of previous “Five Questions for a Fellow” interviews, click here.