It’s a truck like no other – it’s a garden to go

It’s a sight that turns heads: a vegetable garden growing in the bed of an old Ford pickup. If you’ve seen the “On-the-Grow” Learning Garden Truck around south King County, then you’ve likely seen Kaiser Permanente member Bridget Kubes, too.

In her work for a local food bank, Bridget takes the mobile garden to schools, libraries, senior centers, and community events to teach kids and adults about growing and eating healthy food. She offers a variety of classes and learning opportunities for young and old alike.

“As the community has learned about the truck,” she says, “the components of the classes have grown organically.” Pardon the pun.

Bridget’s story

You might be surprised to learn that a year before Bridget accepted her active job as a gardening evangelist, she struggled to walk. She had no cartilage in one knee since she was 13 years old. “I was bone-on-bone in that knee,” she remembers. “It was so painful, I had to use a motorized cart in the grocery store.”

Toward the end of 2014, she began a 2-year sabbatical after working more than 15 years in social services. She earned her urban agriculture certificate and interned at local farms. She dreamed of owning her own pig farm and wanted to glean as much knowledge as she could from folks in the trenches.

One important thing she learned: She desperately needed a knee replacement if she was to live a physically challenging life in agriculture. Her Kaiser Permanente care team agreed. In late 2015, she had a total knee replacement.

“What a difference it made in my life!” Bridget says.

Now, she spends much of the summer supporting a program that provides lunches and snacks to kids, with access to free school lunches the rest of the year. She engages young people with planting and tasting activities, art projects, stories, and more. She even teaches cooking classes using ingredients she and the kids harvest from the truck.

“I try to model for them what it is to learn,” Bridget says. “Gardening isn’t technology driven. Failure happens. But it’s still a learning experience.”

Many of the adults Bridget and the truck visit have far more gardening experience than she does. She arms herself with handouts developed by experts and often ends up facilitating conversations among folks who have a whole lot to teach her.

Back at the food bank, Bridget conducts “hall classes.” While clients are lined up, waiting their turn to gather items, Bridget talks to them about nutrition and the fresh food items available that week. She finds folks are hesitant to choose items they’re unfamiliar with, like squash, for example. While they wait, she gives them preparation ideas and provides handouts with recipes and storage tips.

Bridget is helping others thrive – while living the Kaiser Permanente “thrive” lifestyle herself. And she’s pretty sure things would be different if not for her new knee.

“My knee surgery allowed me to pursue opportunities I couldn’t consider before – like gardening and hiking. Walking with my partner, Chris, was a joy I wanted back in my life. And now I have that and a rewarding new career, too. I’m so thankful.”

Eating the rainbow

Bridget Kubes loves the motto “Eat the rainbow,” which encourages kids and adults to eat fresh, colorful foods. Not only are colorful foods healthy and delicious, but they also support your immune system and help prevent disease.

Bridget says kids love to talk about their favorite colors. And relating food to colors is a fun, easy way to teach them about healthy eating. For seniors who don’t cook as much as they used to, it’s a helpful reminder about what their bodies need.

Here are a few tasty foods to encourage your family to eat the rainbow.

Red: red peppers, apples, beets, cherries, grapefruit, tomatoes, raspberries
Yellow/orange: sweet potato, cantaloupe, carrots, peaches, corn, yellow zucchini
Green: avocadoes, asparagus, broccoli, honeydew melon, spinach, peas
Blue/purple: blueberries, purple cabbage, grapes, blackberries, eggplant
White: cauliflower, mushrooms, bananas, onion, garlic, parsnips

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