How did you end up here in Visalia?
David and I moved to Visalia shortly after completing my master’s in public health degree from Columbia University. However, we decided to return to our hometown of Pixley to help with community health and mentoring projects. Our small unincorporated communities have fewer opportunities to meet people who want to build a healthier and safer community.

How did you get your start in this line of work?
I had all the signs of an “at-risk kid.” I was poor. I was born to a teen mom who was an immigrant and didn’t speak the language. I saw the hardship and differences compared to my school friends. I saw how my parents were treated; I saw how I was treated and, mostly, I saw family members and family friends die, become diseased or disabled from preventable conditions. Originally, I was interested in health, but late during my undergraduate career, I discovered community health as an opportunity to address health education, health access, and the underlying conditions that produce disease and death. The focus on food grew slowly as I began to move around the country pursuing my graduate training. It was at that time that I realized I was a spoiled California girl who loved fresh produce and no other state compared!

Sarah Ramirez

Why are you passionate about your work?
The motivations are from a sincere place grounded in my own experiences. Simply put, I believe that “food is medicine” and “we find health through movement,” that everyone is worthy of love and belonging, that small acts of love ripple to create waves of changes, and that we are all bound by a common desire to be free from suffering, I want to see communities with improved access to the tools, knowledge and resources that can help us reach our full potential and become the healthy, THRIVING human beings we were meant to be.

What is the most challenging thing about your job?
Some of the biggest challenges have been the numerous myths that exist about food banks. Many people believe that food banks are fully funded by the government, that a food bank should only “give away” canned foods or that some people really don’t need food. In the case of FoodLink, 25 percent of the budget comes through county, state and federal governments; the remaining funds have to be raised through fundraisers, direct appeals, grants and more. Cuts to government safety net programs mean more people have to rely on food banks and that places more pressure on food banks to meet the needs of a growing number of people. We need to address the root causes of hunger, partner with healthcare organizations that want to see health outcomes improve, and educate those who want to see healthcare spending costs drop. We want people to have an opportunity to grow, cook, preserve and access healthy food with dignity. If we look at Tulare County, we know that more than 25 percent of our population is living in poverty, utilizing food stamps, or needing to access free and reduced-priced meal programs. We’re seeing greater numbers of college students experiencing food insecurity, more temporary job statuses that do not provide a wage that covers the cost of living, and fewer programs to support retired and disabled seniors.

Tell us about a single moment when you realized this was the right occupation for you:
The moment was when I connected with several young high school students and teens who shared their lives with me. In one case, the story was about food scarcity. In another, the story was about cultural traditions that arose out of the experiences of not having enough to eat, but romanticizing crumbs or burnt rice as a wonderful food tradition.

If you had to choose another career, what would it be?
I’d follow my nerdy bookworm and data-loving instinct while being a research scientist!

Tell as a little about life outside of work:
In this job, there hasn’t been much time for outside hobbies. I don’t know if that’s the nature of the job or just the way that I’ve done the job. I grew up poor and that has really framed my thoughts about my life, so anything I do has to be free or nearly free. I love cooking, but I especially love cooking with friends. I love spending time in the garden. I relax by listening to music and finding new music to work out to. I like to play with my friends’ children. I also attend mindfulness, self-compassion and meditation workshops as a way to relax. However, I think my favorite hobby is volunteering in service projects.

What is something most people don’t know about you?
I teach a mind-body holistic movement practice called the Nia technique. I was fortunate to be introduced to the practice when I became a graduate student in 1998 at ASU. Two years later, I became a teacher and have been trained through my black belt level. I haven’t taught much since I experienced a severe car accident and fractured my cervical spine, but I continue to dance, attend trainings, and enjoy the practice and the creativity it inspires for me.

What about Visalia makes this a good community to live and work in?
It has allowed me to meet caring friends and allies who also aspire to creating a healthy community. A lot of us grew up, went away to school and returned because we see so much potential for making this the BEST place to live, raise a family and grow old.