On January 21, Dr. Nicole Gatto, associate professor at Loma Linda University School of Public Health received the 2014 Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award (GEELA) in the sustainable communities category. This award program is California’s highest environmental honor, according to the CalEPA website.
With a background in cardiovascular disease and epidemiology, Dr. Gatto became aware of the alarming rates of obesity among children and adults in the United States and its relationship to socioeconomic factors and access to healthy foods and green spaces in local environments. With more fast food, convenience, and liquor stores than grocery stores in Los Angeles, Dr. Gatto decided to dedicate her personal and professional life to addressing the obesity epidemic and has been involved in creating four school gardens (through the LA Sprouts program) and six community gardens (Milagro Allegro Community Garden and the Little Green Fingers Collaborative) in underserved communities of the greater LA region.
These gardens provide the communities they serve with access to fresh fruits and vegetables of high quality, something that only 18 percent of the grocery stores in LA offer. By starting at the local level, Dr. Gatto has shown that healthy lifestyles go hand in hand with the surrounding environment.
“I am deeply encouraged by the growing recognition of the importance of growing one’s own food for both promoting individual health as well as the health of our environment,” says Dr. Gatto.
The annual GEELA recognizes individuals, organizations, and businesses that have demonstrated exceptional leadership and made notable, voluntary contributions in conserving California’s resources, protecting and enhancing the environment, building public-private partnerships, and strengthening California’s economy.