Chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer are increasingly becoming a problem in Latino communities, and many are starting to realize that nutrition plays a major role in health disparities. Research by groups such as NCLR has shown that Hispanic families are less likely than non-Hispanic white families to live in neighborhoods where healthy food is available and sold at affordable prices.
But farmers markets and healthy corner stores are being established in food deserts and entrepreneurs like Rosa Rios Valdez are trying to connect with younger, more health-conscious Hispanic customers and to introduce older Hispanics to better food alternatives. Rosa, the director of the nonprofit Business and Community Lenders (BCL) of Texas, has been working for over two decades to assist small businesses owned by women, minorities, and veterans. The organization’s work is inspired by the slogan: Lead, Inspire, and Innovate. “We do what others fear, we take risk that other nonprofits don’t take, we see the future, and we are willing to go there,” says Rosa.
In 2011, she co-founded Salud de Paloma extra virgin olive oil as a way to promote healthy nutrition in the Latino community. The brand was named after Rosa’s mother, whom she called her paloma and died of complications from diabetes. “My mother encouraged me to seek opportunities to create better communities,” says Rosa, who serves as the president of Salud de Paloma.
Rosa’s farm-to-table experience began as a child when her father worked as a bracero in the Texas winter garden fields and brought home local produce. A University of Texas graduate, she has worked with agribusiness and food producers for over twenty years. After seeing her mother suffer from diabetes, she became committed to promoting healthy eating in the Latino community.
True 100% extra virgin olive oil is high in antioxidants and contains organic compounds known as phenols. Studies show that it may improve cardiac health, help lower blood pressure, protect against diabetes and certain types of common cancers, ease symptoms of ulcers and gastritis, lowers gallstone formation, and lower the concentration of “bad” cholesterol in the blood. “Given the short amount of time we’ve been in the market, we’ve made tremendous progress and have received positive feedback from the community,” says Rosa. “People are ready to start making positive changes in the way they eat, in pursuit of good health.”
Salud de Paloma, created with a blend of local Texas and California olives, is cold-pressed and bottled in Dripping Springs. It sells its extra virgin olive oil at nearly half the cost of comparable oils. The brand proudly bears the Go Texan seal, signifying membership in the Texas Department of Agriculture’s program that promotes food that is grown, raised, and produced in the Lone Star State. “Food products that contain locally grown ingredients and are locally produced are going to be fresher and more nutritious,” says Rosa.
With a commitment to independent retail, Salud de Paloma is now on the shelves at Uncommon Fare and Melissa Guerra’s Latin Kitchen Market in San Antonio, as well as the Bread Basket, Rosewood Community Market, and Wheatsville Food Co-Op in Austin. They’re also present at weekly farmers markets in Austin, Buda, El Paso, Kyle, Laredo, and San Antonio. Chef Chuck Hernandez of Arugula Catering Co., a devoted supporter of local organic food producers for over twenty-five years, will be opening the new restaurant O’liva in San Antonio’s historic Plaza de Armas this year. The restaurant will feature a farm-to-table menu using Salud de Paloma in many of its dishes.
As a social enterprise, Salud de Paloma is owned 100% by the nonprofit BCL. The volunteer board of directors lead this new venture in support of healthy nutrition for all ages.Salud de Paloma works with organizations such as the Texas Diabetes Council, the Texas Diabetes Institute, the Texas Association for School Nutrition, and with public schools and nutritionists across the state to promote healthy lifestyles. Rosa has also been invited to attend the annual National Conversation on Improving Access to Healthy Foods, hosted by the Food Trust. Across the U.S. there are several nonprofit organizations, such as Salud de Paloma’s parent organization BCL, which are taking the lead in offering healthy foods to communities lacking access to grocery stores and fresh foods.
“Healthy foods generate healthy economies,” says Andres Garza, Jr., chairman of Salud de Paloma. “The foods we eat play a major role in the health of our minds and bodies, and the healthier people are, the more productive they can be in their communities.”