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Health With Roots in Food and Sustainability

Updated: Oct 8, 2020

She gardens, volunteers with Brown Girls Surf, plays rugby, studies and works passionately, all while finding a path to her own definition of healthy.

Scroll down to try the quick circuit routine tailored for Shannon!


Shannon is now enrolled at University of California, Berkeley pursuing her bachelor's degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering. She’s been in pursuit of the degree for eight years now--her journey marked by realizing and defining what she’s most passionate about, and how she genuinely cares to learn about the environmental aspect of her work. As she finishes her studies, she aims to introduce more sustainable practices and create a more involved community concerning the farm and farm system. When she pictures herself at her healthiest, she imagines that it’s all intertwined; she elaborates that when thinking about it, “mental, emotional, and spiritual health...I think about food and how food is very intertwined with our environmental health”.

During this pandemic, Shannon has been spending time with her parents on the family farm. She took our call from her parent’s RV in Santa Barbara and started our conversation about health with what I’d say is her own brand of calmness. She explains that topics of health or career always circle back to the farm and her upbringing--and it’s no wonder, since her parents own a farm and her grandparents were LA farmers. What Shannon plans on doing with her work extends so much further than just growing food.

Los Angeles and much of Southern California was dominated by abundant agricultural land within this last century. Its success in farming early on created an environment for quick growth, and encouraged a population boom and more urban development. The potential and continued ability to grow an abundance of healthy produce by now urban areas make it even more bizarre that these urban areas and places of poverty, especially those of underrepresented populations, have a higher prevalence for obesity, under-nutrition, and poor health.

The problems of poverty in urban areas are not new. Solutions have included the incorporation of engaging communities through empowering processes, and fostering the well-being of public spaces including community gardens. The interconnectedness of food, community, and overall health inevitably bring the topic of farming practices to the table.

One of the problems that these communities face has resulted in them being dubbed “food deserts”. This phenomenon describes urban areas lacking adequate food options (one reason attributed to supermarkets experiencing financial losses when opening in poorer neighborhoods where families cannot afford healthy groceries), low levels of education enabling unhealthy decision making, and soda and processed foods being more readily available or accessible than fresh fruits and vegetables. Yet, a whopping fifty five percent of the population live in urban areas worldwide.

Combating issues of accessibility include organizations such as Food Forward, a group that brings fresh healthy produce to underserved communities in South LA. The movement towards appreciating communal gardening, growing plants that serve our health needs, and bringing tasty, robust options to the table for families continues to progress. From further up the supply chain, Latinx farmers in Southern California are also bringing more sustainable practices where “living off the land” incorporates a more diverse ecosystem on smaller farms, limit the use of harmful pesticides or chemicals, and produce healthier and extremely marketable crops. These efforts augment help to diverse and underrepresented communities, grant more accessible means to healthy eating, and ideally continue to expand in the coming years.

Michael Pollan, who wrote a New York Times bestseller dedicated to dissecting the origins of and American’s relationship to food, begins by pointing out that most of us don’t have strong food traditions. Instead, we “have ‘experts’ who give us lots of different advice about what to eat and what not to eat”. We rarely know exactly what goes into our food or how it’s made, let alone if it is well suited to our dietary needs. In 2009, the CDC invited Pollan to speak to researchers and leaders of the federal agency and Pollan gave a deceptively simple response to healthy eating: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.”

Shannon follows a mostly plant-based diet herself. She spends her days studying and finishing school work, staying involved with the Cal rugby team, and reserves some weekends for volunteering with Brown Girl Surf. But when she talks about her passions, she always reverts to aquaponics and sustainable farming. Shannon’s vision is about recognizing that the ability to grow fresh food in a sustainable way means reclaiming the relationship to the land that feeds us, and that this should be knowledge and resource to all people.

There’s a deep sense of purpose behind her words and actions wherever she becomes involved. “I think everything can kind of come back to when I was fifteen,” Shannon’s voice maintains calm steadiness, “I went surfing with a friend and there was a freak accident and she ended up passing away...she was my best friend.” She goes on to explain recognizing her own privilege in growing up fifteen minutes away from the ocean. Returning to the waves, she recalls times where she had to claim space in the water among male surfers, and realizing that many women, especially women of color, have never gone past their ankles or knees in the ocean. But the sport runs in her veins, her dad was a surfer, too. Shannon has made it her duty to help bring surfing to others, particularly marginalized communities, find joy in this terrifying place that is the ocean.

While she helps others feel physically empowered, her studies continue in a field dominated by men. Through her engineering coursework, she tries to shift focus onto what she can do to bring about solutions to allow people to reclaim their voice in “speaking for their health and livelihood”. One way she wants to accomplish this is through aquaponics. Aquaponics offers a solution to limited space and wasteful dated techniques by utilizing a closed system where “wastes” are captured, utilized, and repurposed at every step. The results are nourished crops that grow at astonishing rates. Shannon believes that innovation and education can bring about better farming techniques that can bring fresh produce to communities, encourage sustainable practices, help sequester more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, and promote healthy habits. After all, food is power.

Fortunately, the movement of bringing about communal gardens and farming is gaining momentum. For instance, some organizations and communities try to seek out empty urban lots to utilize as a small urban garden for fresh produce. More exciting maybe is the shift to practical uses of gardening spaces by schools during this global pandemic--using spaces to teach communal gardening and how to grow produce at home, all while incorporating sciences and other practical skills.

There's much to be done, but we don't have to do it alone. There are communities and resources available where we can continue to learn, contribute, and empower ourselves and others.

Shannon's little bit of advice?

Decide for yourself what you care about and what matters to you and what’s important to you and your moral code. And if you’re always following that you can never go wrong.

You really have to find confidence in what is right for yourself and your life.”


The following exercises are featured in the article are common recommendations from our training/physical therapy team, but it is not to be used as prescriptive movements. Each reader should be advised to seek care from a primary physician or licensed therapist if they are experiencing notable pain/discomfort.

For Shannon, I've structured a 30-40 minute dynamic circuit focusing on hip and shoulder health so that she can improve function, strength, and mobility through her active lifestyle and sporty adventures. As a bonus, this is a high calorie burn routine that incorporates resistance training and cardio for increasing bone integrity, muscle strength, and heart health.

Form is key, but do what feels good and listen to your body!

The routine: Warm up (~10 minutes): Air Squats, Windmills, Caterpillar Push-ups, Hip Openers, Lunges with Balance

Circuit (1 minute per exercise, 20 seconds between each; total~30 minutes):

Squat and Press

Weighted Lateral Lunges

Sumo Squat Pulses

Shoulder Pikes


Lunges (back)

Mountain Climbers (slow)

Cool down/Core (done as super-set, 2-3 rounds; ~5-10 minutes):

Sit-ups with Overhead/Shoulder Mobility (25 reps)

Minute Plank

Warm up at a glance:

Air Squats: feet shoulder width apart; slow on the way down to 90 (think spreading the floor between the feet and knees tracking over mid foot/direction of second toe).

Windmill Squats: Doing large backward arm circles, dip hips down into your squat following the arm motion (as if scooping up water); practice good squat form with foot firmly planted, core tight, back straight.

Caterpillar Push-ups: Feet stay in the same spot as you walk the hands out, bring the entire body to the ground, push up and hold the plank (make adjustments to feel the core here), and then walk the hands back, hand up in the air to finish.

Hip Openers: Start in a plank, bring one foot to the outer edge of the hand (right foot to right pinky) then lift that hand (in this example, the right) slowly fingertips to the ceiling, then slowly back to the ground.

Lunge with Balance Focus: Start in standing, lunge forward, then the front leg will kick the body back up--balance on the back leg with the front foot on "imaginary step", perform slowly while coming back into standing. 8 each side.

The 7 Move Circuit (set your timers!):

We've set Shannon's timer for 1 minute of work per exercise, 20 seconds "rest" used in transitioning between moves, and a maximum of 2 minutes of rest after all 7 have been completed. Three rounds means getting through all 7 moves three times around!

Squat and Press: Dumbbells start at shoulders as you perform the squat. As you come up, push the weight up above the shoulder; strong stance like a pillar. Tummy tight--eliminate use of low back.

Weighted Lateral Lunges: Looking for upright posture with hands squeezing weight, core engaged, 90 degree bend in working leg, stretch in "non working" leg and strong move up when returning to initial position. Slow on the way down.

Sumo Squat Pulse: hold a heavier dumbbell with base between palms. Wide stance, lower hips and keep torso upright as you slowly pulse within a small range. Watch where the knees tend to go--you want to prevent them from coming inward, so think about pushing knees out or in the direction of the second toe.

Shoulder Pikes: start in a high plank; bring the hips up and bring the chest towards the tops of thighs. Then return to the high plank position, with core remaining tight.

Skaters: Aim for strong wide bounds and pause to check stability (no sloppy uncontrolled hops!)--look for a deeper bend in the knee and check that the back leg hovers/crosses over behind the stable leg. Work on consistency throughout the working minute.

Lunges (back): start in standing, shift weight onto standing leg (hips and shoulders level), step back and hit 90 degrees on both legs; front knee never passes toes. Use front leg to bring body back to standing, squeeze the butt and try to keep weight distributed evenly on the front foot.

Mountain Climbers (core focus): in plank, find your rhythm as you keep the hips steady and drive that knee through the chest, squeezing the abs.

Core Finisher:

Shannon's Challenge: try doing 25 of the sit-ups then the plank with no rest between the moves as 1 round...give yourself a minute to catch your breath and see if you can do 3 rounds total!

Sit Up + Shoulder Mobility: Start with arms extended above chest; sit up pushing an imaginary bar to the ceiling. Bring the chest through and try to keep the back flat through the finish. Slowly lower.

Plank: With elbows positioned under shoulders, bring the body into a line--imagining the base of the skull, shoulders, low back, and hips all touching a sturdy plank. Watch out for where your low back wants to go; you can squeeze the butt and think naval to spine to keep the core engaged.


Have questions or want more? Comment below or shout us out. We want to know what you think!


Written by:

Judith Wang

Founder, Project Green Beard

UCSC Banana Slug

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