The evening’s cooks were so prolific that there was food to spare. At the end of our recent community event on food access in City Heights, Djoha Uwamwiza sent people home with leftovers.

It was an added perk. The evening event — a collaboration between, KPBS, the Media Arts Center and the AjA Project — featured great conversation with bright minds who have been working to improve access to nutritious food in City Heights.

There were women like Uwamwiza, who recently started a cooking group for Swahili-speaking refugees as a way to stave off loneliness and stay connected to the countries they left.

Though City Heights is a vibrant community full of refugees, Uwamwize found that Swahili-speaking women felt isolated living there. Cooking groups like hers have helped ease the transition and brought women together around food to talk about the challenges of raising a family in a new community.

Lisa Vandervort, a nutritionist who works with refugees to promote healthy eating, said her work with the AjA Project’s student photography project exposed her to new ways of thinking about food in immigrant communities. The project asked children to photograph culinary practices in their homes.

It was Vandervort’s first opportunity to visit kitchens in City Heights, and the pictures she saw have made her more sensitive to the need for balancing western assumptions about healthy eating with traditional culinary practices from around the world.

Anchi Mei, from the San Diego office of the International Rescue Committee, and Diane Moss, from the nonprofit Project New Village, have been working through bureaucratic red tape to make it easier for residents of City Heights and southeastern San Diego to grow their own food on vacant land.

Both women have already improved access to community gardens and encouraged growers to sell at farmers markets. Mei’s next focus, she said, is figuring out how local agriculture can help create jobs.

If you missed the event, you missed out on an energetic and enlightening community discussion. But not to worry. KPBS producers recorded the event and we’ll make it available soon.

In the meantime, check out a couple of videos from some high school students in the Media Arts Center’s Mobile Stories program. They fanned out at the event to document the evening with cell phone cameras.

Here’s a quick overview of the evening:

And this one’s about one of the two cooking groups that were the real hit of the evening:

Adrian Florido is a reporter for He covers San Diego’s neighborhoods. What should he write about next?

Contact him directly at or at 619.325.0528.

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Adrian Florido is a former staff writer for Voice of San Diego.

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