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Colusa Indian Community Goes Hand-in-Hand with Healthy Lifestyles

At the Colusa Indian Community Council’s Hand-in-Hand Learning Center in northern California, the garden is the focal point of a curriculum that revolves around physical and mental health, fresh food, and local partnerships. The garden, which has been a work in progress for the last five years, is central to Hand-in-Hand’s efforts to educate children and families about healthy lifestyles and obesity prevention.

The children are active participants in the daily routines around the garden.  The children look forward to going to the garden to weed, and water, as well as harvest.  The garden harvest is used for preparing meals, snacks, and harvest baskets for children to bring home.

Gardening amidst expanses of agricultural land along the Sacramento River has been a part of the Colusa Indian Community for many generations and continues today at the Hand-in-Hand garden. The Cachil Dehe Wintun Indians were traditionally hunters and gatherers and relied on the natural crops and bountiful resources that the Sacramento Valley provided to support their families with game, fish, acorns, blackberries, elderberries, and other native plants that are plentiful in the area. 

In Hand-in-Hand’s child care programs serving children ages 18 months through 12 years, children work with staff to tend the garden throughout the seasons as part of the garden curriculum. In the spring, children plant seeds that are transplanted to the garden, and they help in preparing the soil, weeding, watering, and harvesting foods that can then be served for meals and snacks. Hand-in-Hand has introduced a variety of natural elements to the original garden plot, including native plants, bird feeders, a hummingbird/butterfly garden, and a toddler garden and play area to encourage exploration, discovery, and a love of nature. 

Both children and their families are able to enjoy the garden: when the harvest is bountiful, Hand-in-Hand provides a basket of fresh vegetables and herbs for children to bring home. This serves to reinforce a healthy approach to both nutrition planning and active lifestyle examples that families can implement at home.  Hand-in-Hand recently implemented a policy to offer four servings of fruits and vegetables to the children each day, and staff began hosting Open Houses during which kitchen personnel provide menu demonstrations and offer healthy snacks to families.

As a part of Hand-in-Hand’s goals to implement a healthy approach to physical activity, the group visited a local dance studio — the children clearly loved the field trip!

Daily physical activity is another important feature of Hand-in-Hand’s objectives and goals. For instance, the owner/instructor of a local dance studio comes to Hand-in-Hand twice a month to teach dance, movement, and stretching. Classroom learning extends to the outdoors and into the wonderful playgrounds, where movement and hands-on activities are a part of each day.

Each month, the children participate in “Harvest of the Month” tastings on-site, in partnership with the Champions for Change Network for a Healthy California. Their families receive a newsletter that offers recipes, reasons to eat healthy, and tips on gardening, eating right, and physical activities. Most recently, the tribal group decided to greatly expand the size of the garden plot and discuss how to reach out to the elders and teens in the community. The approach emphasizes that idea that nutrition, physical activity, healthy lifestyles, and success all go hand in hand.

Beyond the learning center, the Colusa Indian Community has worked on cultivating a large farming operation since the Cachil Dehe Band of Wintun Indians of the Colusa Indian Community formed their constitution and by-laws on November 23, 1941 with the 45 original tribal members. Now the community has over 4,000 acres of diversified tree, grain, and field crops located in Colusa, California; the majority of the acreage – in excess of 2,800 acres – currently planted with rice. 

Planting native oak trees around the property and in the playgrounds.  The tree planting was a part of the Natural Play Ground implementation, which began in 2009.  The trees were started by acorns that a tribal council member planted. 

Tribal members share stories of families coming together to cultivate gardens and orchards to supplement their diets, with children as active participants in that tradition. Many recall picking blackberries from the wild blackberry patches and making jam, walking to peach trees and assisting in the canning process with their grandmothers, going to the garden with their grandfathers to pluck fresh tomatoes that were eaten right off of the vine, or digging up new potatoes that their mothers would then boil as children ran out the door on a new adventure. These stories are a part of the Cachil Dehe Band of Wintun Indians culture and history and are passed down to the youth today.