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Food Literacy Hero
Ashley Brand and Liza Kirkland

Ashley Brand and Liza Kirkland

As we kickstart a brand new healthy year, we would like to express our grapefruit gratitude to Dignity Health of Greater Sacramento for being one of Food Literacy Center’s biggest donors and earliest supporters. Two of Dignity Health’s team members, Ashley Brand, Director of Community Health & Outreach, and Liza Kirkland, Manager of Community Health & Outreach, have been working closely with us over the years to help us expand our food literacy program to more schools in Sacramento. For being champions of health education in our communities, we are delighted to honor Ashley and Liza as February’s Food Literacy Heroes!

Amber Stott first met Ashley back in 2013 when Amber gave a speech about Food Literacy Center to a cohort of students earning their Master’s in Public Health at Drexel University. Ashley, an alumnus of this program, was in attendance and was working at Dignity Health as manager of community benefit at that time. They made their first donation in 2013 and since then, Food Literacy Center has been chosen two years in a row to be the recipient of a $100,000 grant shared with two other partners: Soil Born Farms and Health Education Council.

“We recognize access to healthy food is not isolated and needs to be combined with food literacy to truly create a positive impact,” Ashley said. “The organization’s mission aligns with our work at Dignity Health and the Food Literacy Center addresses a gap in the community that we find extremely important to respond to.”

Under the grant, the three partners collaboratively inspire kids to eat their vegetables by incorporating food literacy into their schools and working with a Vegetable of the Month. For example, if the vegetable is chard, students will taste and cook with it in a food literacy after-school program. They will also participate in a Soil Born garden class where they plant or harvest chard with their science teacher. Meanwhile, their parents are learning about the health benefits of chard in a class with Health Education Council.  

Liza is Food Literacy Center’s point of contact for the grant and she visits the classroom and helps us troubleshoot along the way.

“Seeing the kids just be so fearless and ask for some exotic fruits and veggies like, watermelon radish is beyond amazing—I didn’t know what that was until this past year,” Liza said.

Ashley and Liza were both drawn to the world of public health through their desire to help underserved communities gain access to services that will improve their health and wellbeing. Ashley had volunteered in East Africa after college, but after working in a health center in Long Beach and a housing first project in skid row, Los Angeles, she became passionate about developing solutions and implementing programs to help underserved individuals gain access and knowledge to much-needed services. She continues to bring the same passion and conviction to her work at Dignity Health and her support of Food Literacy Center.

“I believe education allows people to feel empowered and gives them an opportunity to make better decisions once they have the knowledge,” Ashley said.

Liza’s career path to public health began with a health scare in her family. When she was 13, her younger brother, who was 9, was diagnosed with leukemia. He’s a healthy adult now but it was a challenging time for the family. Barely a teen herself, Liza had to help her parents, Mexican immigrants with an 8th-grade education, navigate the complex healthcare system. Her first-hand experience inspired her to become an advocate and a voice for people with challenges and barriers to healthcare resources.

Thanks to their supportive parents, both women grew up playing sports and eating delicious home-cooked meals. Ashley played soccer and helped her dad cook large holiday dinners. These days, she’s passing on her love of cooking to her two-year-old daughter who has a little kitchen ladder to climb on so that she can watch her mom cook. Liza’s mother, her food hero, grew up in Mexico surrounded by fruits and vegetables and made sure her children ate healthily too. When Liza was two years old, her favorite vegetable was broccoli and she used to beg her mom for “little trees.” Her mom also signed her up for swimming lessons when she was a kid and she ended up earning a swimming scholarship to California State University, Fresno.

Ashley and Liza practice food literacy at home by visiting farmers markets on the weekends to try new produce and connect with local farmers. Ashley and her husband are raising a daughter who is an adventurous foodie! They let her try anything she wants unless they know it is extremely spicy. Liza is currently enrolled in the Institute for Integrative Nutrition’s holistic health coach program. She hopes to use her knowledge and skills to help organizations and individuals achieve their best selves through food and lifestyle changes.

These two extraordinary women have dedicated their lives to empowering underserved individuals with access to resources and knowledge that will improve their health and wellbeing. We are pomegranate proud to call Ashley and Liz our Food Literacy Heroes!

Ashley Brand and Liza Kirkland

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