We had the good fortune of connecting with Juanita Rivas-Raymer she/her and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Juanita, where are your from? We’d love to hear about how your background has played a role in who you are today?
My mom was from Bogota, Colombia and my dad is from Tingo Maria, Peru. They immigrated to the United States in their mid 20’s. My mom wanted to just blend in and let go of her latinix culture so as to fit in. My dad on the other hand was very proud to be Peruvian. I grew up in Hollywood until i was 12 years and after that we moved around a lot. My parents split up pretty early on in my childhood and so my mom mostly raised us. I saw my mom go from not knowing how to speak english or working to learning a new language and finding a job. I don’t think i ever heard my mom complain. I think this is why no mater how hard life gets, i just know there is a way to get through it. When i was a single mom and i got fired from a job it was so hard to get out there and get another job but i did it. I learned early on that you just do what you have to do to get by. My dad was a hippie in the 70’s and i also never remember hearing him complain. We would see him on weekends and he was always so positive. He taught me to see the good in people. I get my spirituality from him too. He would take us to groups that would chant, practice yoga and do energy healings. I think i naturally gravitated to this and so that’s why i became a yoga teacher. My mom taught me to be a strong and resilient person and my dad taught me to look at the positive side of life and to make the best of it..

Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
Growing up in Hollywood i never saw anyone with a veggie garden. I do have a fond memory of a fig tree in our apartment complex. We would get such a kick out of picking the fruit and eating it. When i had my kids I started reading about factory farms and how our food traveled so far to get to us. At the time we lived in northern California where we would go to lots of farmer’s markets. I never really thought about where my food came from until I would hear people talk about why buying food that was grown so far away was bad. They would also talk about “eating seasonally” and growing their own food. It wasn’t until we moved back to Los Angeles and had a small yard that i seriously started thinking about creating a vegetable garden. My husband thought I was crazy because not only did I want to start gardening, I wanted to rip out all the lawn so that i could grow lots of food. Not to mention that i had no experience in keeping plants alive. At the same time I joined a group called “Claremont Food not Lawns” where I learned a lot about not just growing food but how some people didn’t have access to fresh produce because there weren’t any grocery stores close by. This is called a food desert. I had found my calling. I wanted to teach as many people living in food deserts how to grow food. For the next few years i volunteered as a community garden manager and went through the UC Master Gardeners program which works to connect experienced gardeners to community projects as volunteers. Through the community garden i was able to work with girl scout groups, high schoolers and college kids to educate them on the importance of growing food and the mental and physical benefits of it. What I’ve learned is that without taking the risks and trying something completely out of my norm, i would not have experienced all of these amazing programs and people. Through these programs i have learned a lot about social justice and how important it is to help your community. I know that i am happiest when i feel connected to my community and can be of help. Empowering people through teaching skills that help them deal with hardships through yoga and gardening is my passion. When my mom was going through cancer treatments i felt so stressed and anxious. I noticed that when i sat in my small garden and even just pulled some weeds and watched the birds enjoying my garden that i would start to feel better. There is actual scientific data on how gardening can lower your blood pressure. When i couldn’t afford organic veggies and fruits i decided to grow my own. I was horrible at first but just kept learning and trying until i got better. I’m not a fast learner. I want people to know that its ok to fail at some stuff. Just keep trying things until you find what works. Find your tribe and be ok with asking for help. Currently I work as a gardener tending to resident gardens and offer classes virtually and in person on how to create garden spaces small or big. Grow food for Sustainability! I also teach prenatal and Hatha Yoga classes. Happy gardening! J

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
I would start by taking them to the Pomona farmers market. The tamale vendor there makes delicious tamales. What’s interesting about this farmers market is that the majority of people buying are paying with CalFresh/EBT. Great place to get affordable organic veggies. They also have have a booth where you can pick up free seeds to start your garden. If looking for a cocktail i like going to Union on Yale in Claremont where they sometimes use herbs or things like elderberry syrup to make interesting and delicous drinks. If you want to treat yourself, the food is really good too. From here we would go to Amy’s farm to check out all the cute farm animals and meet farmer Randy(Amy’s dad). We would walk around looking at the veggie gardens too. If it’s a Saturday we could buy a coffee from their cute little coffee stand. They also sell their produce. So important to support our local farms. A must see is also another farm in Ontario called Huerta del Valle. This is a beautiful community farm where you can sit and enjoy the view and possibly chat with the members that rent plots there. They also sell produce there that is grown on site. Classic coffee in Glendora is a nice place to pick up a coffee and baked sweet. They even have gluten free sweet breads. Another place that i would want to share with people is the Rubel Castle in Glendora. This is a sleepy town with pretty manicured lawns until you reach the Rubel castle. This is a funky place with a great history that was built in the 70’s by a man, Michael Rubel who used concrete and found objects to build it. If my guest enjoys hiking i would recommend the colby trail in Glendora. One of my favorite restaurants is Mint Leaf Indian restaurant in Pasadena. The food is delicious, and spicy but if you want less spice you can request it. The food taste fresh and i really appreciate the fact that they tell you what dishes have dairy or gluten which is very important since i’m allergic to gluten.

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I would say my mom and my dad. My mom passed away 6 years ago but my dad, Walter Rivas is still around and loves to share his story. I also want to give a shoutout to “Zoe Blaq” Bartney, she is an artist and also has worked with adults that have special needs to teach them to grow food.

Website: www.gardenyogijuanita.wixsite.com/adaraluz
Instagram: gardenyogijuanita
Facebook: yoga and gardening with Juanita
Other: For access to videos on gardening and yoga in english and spanish here is my Patreon membership page. www.patreon.com/gardenyogijuanita

Image Credits
Scott Raymer

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