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​LA Troka: Sembrando Cultura y Nutrición

Posted January 23, 2020 by LA Plaza

This is an update on the winning proposal from the LIVE category in the 2019 LA2050 challenge.

The LA Troka team recently sat down with six representatives from Mexico and Central America to discuss indigenous food sources, contemporary cuisine, and community health. These individuals representing Mexico, Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras shared their cultural experiences and discussed the mission of LA Troka. When asked if they had ever heard of the countries that made up the area known as Mesoamerica, they excitedly raised their hands, eager to share what they knew. This group of 3rd through 5th graders from Normandie Elementary in Inglewood shared stories of where their families had migrated from and discussed their favorite corn foods including tamales, tacos, elotes, pozole, and pupusas. Students excitedly went on to explore the ancestral corn plant through hands-on activities. They ground nixtamal into masa using a metate, observed the inside of a corn kernel under a microscope, and learned the parts of the plant in three languages (English, Spanish, Nahuatl). Students left inspired to connect with their family histories and empowered to explore healthier eating habits. This is one of many examples of a community reactivating their culinary roots.

Students grinding nixtamal into masa using a metate
Students grinding nixtamal into masa using a metate

LA Troka: Sembrando Cultura y Nurtrición, brings science, health, history, art and culture to youth across LA County by exploring connections between the historical, cultural, and nutritional components of ancient Mesoamerican foods. LA Troka addresses major issues in community health and wellness. According to findings by the Latino Legislative Caucus and the LA County Department of Public Health, Latinos are less likely to have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Latinos were also found to eat fast food and drink soda more often compared to non-Latinos, resulting in higher rates of diabetes and obesity. In 2013, 32% of Latino fifth graders in Los Angeles County were reported as obese. For all these reasons and more, LA Troka works with local communities to learn about the importance of healthy living.

Since receiving the LA2050 grant in July 2019, LA Troka has reached more than 4,400 participants through 54 workshops in 26 different public and scholastic events. We anticipate continuing this positive trend and reaching our goal of 10,000 participants by the end of June 2020.

With the implementation of a participant survey, we have begun recording the impact LA Troka has on our local communities. Focusing on raising awareness of nutrition, culinary preparation, and cultural-historical background of native Mesoamerican plant foods, we have found that:

  • 90% of participants believe that healthy eating is very important for their families
  • 62% have considered the connection between food and their cultural ancestry
  • 82% of participating families said they were very willing to try new healthy food options and recipes at home after participating in LA Troka's workshops.
  • 100% of participants surveyed expressed the importance of having programs like LA Troka in their communities

We plan to continue collecting data through the end of the grant period as an evaluative tool to ensure we are meeting program and grant goals while also serving the needs of our communities.

Since receiving the LA2050 grant, we have seen an increase in requests for LA Troka programming at schools and community events. We are especially excited about the work we have begun with after school programs, including Keep Youth Doing Something, Inc. (KYDS), and have worked with entities such as City Year, LA City and County libraries, and the Department of Parks and Recreation. We've extended our reach to various communities like Pasadena, Baldwin Park, Orange County, and Pomona where we have participated in school-based workshops, community events, and STEAM Expos. These collaborations support our interdisciplinary approach to education, incorporating arts, life science, culinary and garden activities, and trilingual literacy as a way of encouraging participants to explore their own family's culture, traditions, and healthy eating.

As a LA2050 grant recipient, we've had the opportunity to network and collaborate with fellow LA2050 grantees, including the Natural History Museum. We are excited to participate in their upcoming summer program, Summer Nights in the Garden. This will be an opportunity for cross-promotion, while mutually expanding each other's audience base and bringing awareness to the Goldhirsh Foundation mission.

While we've been very successful, we've also encountered some challenges – namely, establishing consistent access to K-12 grade students which requires us to create formal agreements with various school districts. Thus far, we have been able to overcome these challenges by connecting with different school and community partners. Our goals for the next six months are to formalize agreements with charter school networks, streamline our reservation calendar, and balance K-12 school workshops with community events. Additionally, we plan to continue developing curriculum to include a total of 25 native Mesoamerican plant foods. Each of these curriculum units will consist of interchangeable lesson plans that can be used depending on event theme, school, grade, season, and student needs.

When planning for the future, we keep in mind the words and stories of our families who show immense support for the work we do. As one parent wrote to us:

“Me gusto que les enseñan como nuestros abuelos y papas nos criaron a nosotros cultivando el producto para poner en la mesa."

“I liked that they teach [the kids] how our grandparents and parents raised us, cultivating the foods that we put on our tables."

LA Troka is motivated by the understanding that students across Los Angeles carry with them a wealth of knowledge. For the 74% of students enrolled in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) who identify as Latino and the 38% who speak Spanish as their primary language at home, much of this knowledge comes in the form of family tradition, language, food, and familial history. These are the elements on which LA Troka is founded – supporting health and nutrition while communally reviving our culinary and cultural roots!