Former teacher plants seeds of nutrition with gardens

Familiar Faces
By: Menka Belgal, Telegraph Correspondent
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Jan Wilcox is a community outreach specialist for Mercy Folsom. Her first priority is on the “Growing Well with Mercy” school program, which is focused on community collaboration to foster healthy lifestyles. They provide germ, nutrition education and also help schools build gardens. Staffing community events in Folsom, Rancho Cordova and El Dorado Hills keeps her busy in the community. What were you doing earlier? My background is a little unusual in that I was a teacher very early in my career, went back to school and switched to marketing and communications in the technology industry. I am also active in local community projects, groups, boards and associations, and had my own marketing/communications firm. What do you love most about your job? I love seeing the kids interact in the gardens, pick out their snack at recess and eat it right off the vine. We have provided nutrition classes with tasting and the kids enjoy the vegetables. They love being in the garden, in the dirt, planting and being outside. Right now we have watermelon, squash, cantaloupe, potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant and pumpkins almost ready to be harvested. It’s very rewarding to see the gardens come together by working with the different community groups and local businesses to make that happen. We have four gardens that we’ve helped with — Theodore Judah Elementary School in Folsom, White Rock in Rancho Cordova, Lakeview Elementary and soon Holy Trinity in El Dorado Hills. I am lucky to work with the most wonderful, dedicated and talented people at Mercy. What are your favorite expressions and quotes? “Do the right thing” and “Stay in the Solution, not the problem.” My favorite quote is “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are” by Teddy Roosevelt. What are your favorite books? I have so many but I love “Pillars of the Earth,” and “World without End” both by Ken Follett, “Ben Franklin” by Walter Isaacson, and “John Adams” by David McCullough. What hobbies do you enjoy? My husband, son and I love to hike in the Sierra. We also enjoy skiing, traveling, practicing yoga, gardening, cooking and spending time with family and friends. What causes are you passionate about? I’m very passionate about gardening as a vehicle to educate the community about healthy eating. Recent research from the National Gardening Association finds that test scores in math and science improve when children are exposed to the experiential learning in “living classrooms,” and our experience is showing that kids are willing to eat vegetables that they’ve grown themselves. They thrive in the garden when they are having a rough day. Fresh air and exercise are so important. What is one thing about you people might be surprised to learn? I lived in Europe for a few years as a child and the experiences that I had with different languages and cultures has given me an interesting perspective on the world. I’m very grateful to my parents for the experience.