Before Silicon Valley was the hub of the tech industry, it was an agricultural center. Raul Lozano’s childhood memories of Mountain View in the early 1960s include running through tomato fields — and having tomato fights — with his brother.
After the 2008 financial crisis, Lozano founded Valley Verde, a San Jose-based nonprofit that is connecting the valley’s current residents with its agricultural past by helping low-income families grow their own food.
For the past 10 years, Valley Verde has run a Home Gardening program to teach Santa Clara County families to grow their own vegetables. Since its founding, the program has helped create over 500 home gardens.
“Valley Verde works with food-insecure communities,” said Lozano, Valley Verde’s executive director.“We teach them everything they need to know about plant propagation, seed germination, watering and composting.”
In monthly 1.5-hour workshops on organic urban agriculture, nutrition and sustainability, the families learn to how to plant, tend and harvest their gardens. The year-long program starts in January, and by spring, participants are ready to plant a spring garden. They harvest throughout the spring and summer, then plant a winter garden in October.
Participating families receive one or two raised beds, depending on family size, which Lozano said will generally provide vegetables for the family for about seven months of the year. Valley Verde provides all the supplies they need, in addition to the instruction. Participants also receive one-on-one mentorship from experienced gardeners.
Valley Verde teaches families to grow vegetables that reflect the cuisines of the county’s largest ethnic groups. Instead of growing apricots and tomatoes as in decades past, the families grow vegetables such as bok choy, chayote, epazote and okra.
Addressing racial and social justice through environmental action
Valley Verde, a first-time grantee of Silicon Valley Community Foundation, received a $15,000 Environment: Community Action Grant to support the group’s Home Gardening program.
The group’s engagement with SVCF has also opened up a connection with SVCF’s Donor Circle for the Environment. SVCF’s Donor Circles bring together philanthropists passionate about specific cause areas to learn together, to discuss strategies and to leverage collective impact by distributing grants as a group. The Donor Circle for the Environment gave Valley Verde an additional grant and invited the group to present to their donors.
“When the opportunity to connect donors with nonprofits aligned with SVCF’s strategic priorities presents itself, that’s where the magic happens! As facilitator of the Donor Circle for the Environment, I was excited about the launch of SVCF’s Environment: Community Action Grant program in 2021 and look forward to creating more connections between our grantees and donor circle members in the year ahead,” said Tara Medve, SVCF philanthropy advisor and donor circle leader.
SVCF’s Environment: Community Action Grants aim to address the racial and social injustices that are significant factors in determining a community’s access to open spaces and clean water, food security, and survival during disasters or severe weather. The grants, part of SVCF’s new strategic direction, support BIPOC-led and allied organizations that work to improve access to clean air, water, open space and food in communities of color and undocumented communities. The grant program also prioritizes organizations with annual budgets under $1 million.
Valley Verde, with its paid staff of eight and mission to increase “self-sufficiency, health, and resilience” through culturally informed, community-based programs, was an ideal fit for the grant as it aligns with SVCF’s values.
Branching out beyond Home Gardening
Valley Verde also runs programs that build on and support the Home Gardening program:
- Super Jardineros: This three-year apprenticeship program allows some graduates of the Home Gardening program to become entrepreneurs and increase their income by growing and selling seedlings. Participants use mini-greenhouses in their yards to grow seedlings that Valley Verde buys from them.
- La Finca: In 2017, Valley Verde opened a greenhouse called La Finca on West San Carlos Street in San Jose. There, the group grows seedlings for use by Home Gardening families and for sale through local nurseries. This both supports the Home Gardening program and generates revenue for Valley Verde to sustain operations.
After launching the Environment: Community Action Grantmaking program in 2021, SVCF looks forward to the foundation’s continued partnership with the inaugural grantee cohort as part of our shared mission to achieve systemic change and advance equity in Silicon Valley.