In 2012, Olivewood Gardens & Learning Center began hosting Cooking for Salud® – a nutrition education and behavior modification class designed to teach participants how to make healthy lifestyle changes. Those who complete – or graduate – from Cooking for Salud earn the title “Kitchenista.” In July 2021, the 19th and 20th classes, also called “Generations” graduated – bringing the total Kitchenistas to date to over 300.

Patty Corona, Cooking for Salud coordinator and Kitchenista from Generation 1, and Monica Lim, part-time accounting coordinator and Kitchenista from Generation 10, explain what it’s been like to nourish bodies and souls for nearly a decade:

From Food Health to Whole Health

Nine years ago, we felt out beloved National City was not the healthiest place in which to live. Our community had high rates of obesity, blood pressure and cholesterol, which was especially true for our Latino community members, who represent over 60% of the population. Looking back, supermarkets in National City looked different – there were hardly any fresh food options and accessing them was nearly impossible. Likewise, there was a lack of information in the community about how to cook healthy meals.

The solution to this health crisis began with children. They were coming to Olivewood Gardens & Learning Center for field trips, learning healthy recipes and then going back home to tell their parents. But, when the children wanted to practice what they learned, their parents were often unable to understand the English instructions. They found themselves wondering, “How do I learn this too?” An Olivewood nutrition educator at the time learned this feedback from the community and began designing a program that aimed to teach adults how they too can create healthy recipes. This was the moment that sparked Cooking for Salud.

A Kitchenista is someone who learns the recipes and skills and then is ready to go into the community and share what they learned. A Kitchenista, as we envisioned it, would be a person that goes through the Cooking for Salud program and then shares their knowledge with loved ones.

Then something interesting happened. We started asking Kitchenistas to share their experiences and discovered most were afraid of public speaking. They didn’t know how to do it so we simply began teaching it. Over the course of the years, we explored many new skills – arts and crafts, physical and mental wellness tips, advocacy training and more. Suddenly, the Kitchenistas began feeling like a support group that went beyond Cooking for Salud. The more we bonded and understood the needs of our community, the more we came to realize people were going through different challenges other than just wanting to cook better. They wanted to be healthier, wiser and develop into leaders, but did not have the resources. We went from food health to whole health, finding even greater importance in feeding your soul and heart.

Stories That Make Us Proud

In addition to learning how to cook healthy, I’ve gained confidence in public speaking and a greater environmental awareness. There’s so much more too – how to connect with my community and how my family and I can value our Mexican culture. I’ve had a great experience and in particular, enjoyed our book club which taught me how to appreciate my culture, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.”              -Leticia Sanchez, Generation 16

Continuing The Mission

Today, it’s so special to know we’ve graduated 21 generations and 325 Kitchenistas. We’ve spanned so many years and have seen Kitchenistas become everything from community agents to elected officials to entrepreneurs.

They’ve even had two documentary films created based on their experiences, The Kitchenistas, and The Kitchenistas of National City

Every Kitchenista generation has given more opportunities to more people. It’s become a legacy – each generation hands down stories, recipes and skills to the next one.

But we are not waiting to get older to solidify this legacy. This program is something that has been truly handed down from generation to generation and we intend to maintain that.

By the next decade, we hope to see every Kitchenista leading healthier lives, earning fair wages and continuing to grow their families. We hope they can avoid making the same sacrifices we did, as mothers and leaders.

The Kitchenistas need to keep growing. So we hope that the message of healthy living is taken into communities beyond National City. We urge younger generations to take the sacred message and share it. That’s what will continue the mission: to be healthy in body and mind, and ensure those around us are fully healthy too.