By Kalvin Valdillez, Tulalip News
The beautiful and peaceful Wellness Garden Trail, located behind the Karen I. Fryberg Health Clinic, officially opened on the morning of April 27, as the community of Tulalip gathered to celebrate the first Garden Day of 2019. After a long, cold winter, the plant beds were ready for a new beginning and approximately seventy-five volunteers arrived bright and early to prune and replenish the garden boxes with fresh soil and new plants.
Garden Day is hosted by the Tulalip Diabetes Care and Prevention program and is held periodically throughout the year. Participants of all ages learn how to grow and maintain a garden by cultivating a variety of produce, fruit trees and traditional medicinal plants. The crew, equipped with gardening tools, gloves and trash bags, as well as piles of fresh soil, worked hard while enjoying good company and a view of Tulalip Bay on a gorgeous spring day.
“We’ve been doing Garden Day since February 2011,” explained Diabetes Program Coordinator, Veronica ‘Roni’ Leahy. “It started at the Hibulb Cultural Center and then it moved to the health clinic in 2014. Diabetes prevention is really what it’s all about. To prevent diabetes, we’re looking to promote exercise and healthy foods. If we can achieve 5-7% weight loss by exercise or nutrition, we reduce our risk of developing diabetes by 57%, by just making little tiny changes. The prevalence of diabetes within Native American communities is higher than non-Native communities. For us, the foods we would’ve traditionally eaten are not readily available to us.”
According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Indigenous Peoples are at a substantially higher risk to develop diabetes than any other race nationwide. Previous records show that for decades, Native diabetics experienced kidney failure due to complications from diabetes. But because of programs like Diabetes Care and Prevention, individuals are now learning how to properly manage their blood glucose and sugar levels, and therefore the amount of kidney failures amongst Native diabetics dropped by a whopping 54% since 2013.
During the event, the health clinic provides free screenings for both blood pressure and blood sugar levels as hypertension and diabetes are widespread amongst tribal members. Based on the results, the clinic can offer advice and refer them to the appropriate specialist. Throughout the day, about thirty volunteers took the time to participate in the screening to get an update on their health.
In addition to learning about diabetes and growing plentiful green gardens, participants are also treated to a delicious and nutritious breakfast, snack and lunch prepared by the Tulalip SNAP-Ed program. Traditional foods were incorporated into the meal, including nettles in tasty brownie deserts, as well as fruit-infused water. The event also included a giveaway where prizes were raffled off such as gardening tools, watering cans, children’s gardening kits and seedlings of strawberries, cabbage, peas, broccoli, zucchini, tomatoes, green beans, and cucumber plants.
“I came out today because Roni inspired me to start my own garden,” expressed Tulalip tribal member, Tempest Dawson. “This is my third year working on my own garden, and I like to come to Garden Day and follow her around because she knows a lot about gardening and I pick up whatever she has to teach me. It’s important to continue to teach our people about the land and that there are natural foods that we can live off of, instead of relying on the grocery store or processed foods.”
Roni explained that five years ago, tribal member Walt Campbell purchased a shovel, painted the tool gold and brought it to Garden Day to gift to the hardest working green thumb of the day. Since then, gifting golden shovels became quite the tradition, adding a bit more fun at the end of each Garden Day. This time around, two golden shovels were gifted; one to Tulalip youth, Cohen Ramsey, the other to Marisol Raza and her children.
“We won the golden shovel award,” Marisol exclaimed. “It’s for being a hard working person, taking part in Garden Day. We’ve been coming for about three years or so and we absolutely love it. Today we cleaned up the plant beds, removed old plants and pulled weeds, as well as added new soil and compost. We planted cabbage and broccoli. Enjoying that final product is going to be awesome.”
Because the gardeners meet up four to five times annually, they’ve developed close friendships over the years. Young Tulalip tribal member, Kaiser Moses, has attended every Garden Day with his mother since its inception and looks forward to helping out at each event as well as visiting with his fellow gardeners.
“I’ve been participating in Garden Day since I was about four,” Kaiser said. “It feels like old friends reuniting every year. It’s really fun and great for rebooting for your mental stability. As a group, we all work together to make the garden better and plant some new plants in the garden beds. There’s a bunch of friendly, kind-hearted happy souls who come out every time we have a Garden Day.”
The Diabetes Care and Prevention Program will continue its busy year, promoting overall health and wellness with a number of classes, programs and Garden Days including the new 26-week Diabetes Prevention class, for those who’ve been diagnosed with pre-diabetes. More details will come before the start of the program in June. For more information, please contact the Tulalip Diabetes Care and Prevention Program at (360) 716-5642.