Gresham’s garden creates connection point with Latinx community

Volunteers work in the Common Good Garden at Gresham UMC, where a new partnership has emerged between the church at Doulas Latinas to provide nutritional support.

by Sally Blanchard

A love of working in a garden and a love for people in their community has grown into a beautiful relationship between Gresham United Methodist Church and Latina doulas.

Dr. Sandra Hernandes founded Doulas Latinas International in 2013 because she saw the need for Latina women to have emotional and linguistic support during pregnancy and childbirth. She based her mission of training community members to be doulas (or doulos, if male) for Latinx families on health equity, so that women who had an advocate to translate and advocate for them would have more options in their medical care.

“The mother is better educated about this culture, which may be different than where she came from, and she feels more confident.” Hernandes said.

She stresses that the doulas work with the mothers and families, always listening to what they want, rather than doing things for them.

Trista Wynne, assistant pastor at Gresham UMC, met Hernandes in February 2020 and they bonded over their passion for growing healthy food in the church’s Common Good Garden and building community.

 Wynne ‘s love of gardening came from her master gardener father and is a central part of her faith

“My passion is working in the earth and connecting people to the creation. There is a lot of teaching in scriptures you can’t understand, unless you are connected to the earth,” she said.

Wynne is a candidate for ordination in the Pacific Northwest area. When senior pastor, Dr. Rev. Steve Lewis, asked her what she wanted to focus on this year in her ministry, she told him she wanted to enlarge the garden. 

“Connecting with spirit comes naturally to me through creation care,” Wynne said. “That is an essential part of my being.”

Sandra Hernandes wants to help mothers and families in her care learn more about nutrition so they can improve conditions such as diabetes and anemia. She sees the garden as a way to educate and provide fresh produce for her low-income clients.

What is a doula?

Hernandes opened her Doulas Latinas International office in Gresham UMC in 2014 and since then has trained about 55 doulas. Community doulas are often mothers who want to support other mothers and families through pregnancy, during childbirth and then for about two weeks to a month postpartum. They help by translating for the mother and advocating for her if she wants to have a natural birth plan with little to no medications. They are not medical professionals but fill the role of emotional support when working with doctors, nurses, and midwives in healthcare settings. The postpartum check-ins offer support for breastfeeding and attachment. The doulas largely volunteer their time but Hernandes has advocated for funding stipends for them of $350 per case to cover their expenses. Gresham UMC donated $2,000 this year for training expenses.

There are currently 15 doulas from this program working in Latinx communities in Gresham, Hood River and Woodburn. Lewis, recently connected Hernandes with Hillsboro UMC’s Hispanic farmworkers outreach and they now have doulas working within that community.

Pregnant women are usually referred to their doula services through social workers at hospitals or WIC clinics (the USDA supplemental nutrition program for women, infants, and children). Sometimes the call comes about two months before the birth, sometimes as short as a week or two before labor, Hernandes explained. Whenever the call comes, they try to help.

Volunteers worked this spring to get the garden beds ready at Gresham UMC, using proper coronavirus protection gear. Photo provided by Rev. Dr. Steve Lewis

Gardening together in the time of Coronavirus

Unlike a community garden where plots are assigned or rented to individuals to plant and care for, the Common Good Garden is a garden that belongs to all who work in it.  Nine new raised beds have been built this spring with the help of a grant from Columbia District Church Extension Society (CDCES) funds. Older beds that were in disrepair have been rebuilt with the help of funds from the church’s memorial garden fund. Wynne asked for help constructing the newly enlarged garden and some men from the church responded.

Donning gloves and masks and maintaining social distance, they got to work making her vision a reality. They worked a few at a time to maintain safety.  She sees the congregation excited by the progress.  Church member Robert told Wynne, “It’s really heartening to do something constructive during this time.” Wynne said she “sees a sparkle in people’s eyes” when talking about the garden.

Hernandes used her network of contacts to bring resources to the garden. She contacted the Oregon Food Bank through their Seed to Supper program. They told her they would deliver a truck load of planting soil and seeds if she arranged for classes on gardening, cooking and nutrition. Because classes cannot be taught inside the church during COVID-19 restrictions, she redesigned the classes to be practical education on planting and caring for a garden. Some of her students had never planted anything before and are learning from church members.She sees great enthusiasm in their work.

Using raised beds makes the garden work accessible to older church members and the very young working with their parents. Gresham UMC houses a Head Start classroom and last fall the students helped to harvest the pumpkins.

Wynne and Hernandes look forward to a harvest this fall that will involve different ages and races working together. The Doulas Latinas will be there with their children. Church members will be there harvesting for their own household or to donate. When asked how they will divide the harvest, Wynne and Hernandes looked at each other with knowing smiles and said that is something they are talking about now.

The garden is visible from the front of the church. Neighbors walking by sometimes ask what is going on. Wynne loves telling them about the garden. It’s becoming a connection point for the neighborhood and the church.

More classes on nutrition and cooking are planned at harvest time. Hernandes and Wynne envision classes on cooking things like salsa when the tomatoes, tomatillos and peppers ripen, offering recipes for squash and healthful uses of herbs. Flash freezing corn might be taught alongside canning techniques. Healthy eating will be stressed. The goal is to have the classes be bilingual in Spanish and English.

 “The relationship between the Doulas and Gresham UMC is a beautiful partnership,” Wynne said smiling widely.

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