Cat Castaneda has two passions: food and how it is grown. The agriculture science major was in her last quarter at Cal Poly Pomona when she paused her education to open her restaurant, Native Fields, in Walnut. The restaurant features locally grown produce, some from Cal Poly Pomona’s own fields.
Castaneda’s small enterprise was doing well, but then the COVID-19 pandemic hit, shutting down all restaurants across Southern California. Castaneda, who is the owner and business manager, had to figure out a way to keep her restaurant alive when no one could dine in person. What happened next could serve as a primer on how to keep a business afloat during a health crisis.
She successfully pivoted to a take-out menu and created an outdoor dining area. She also converted her restaurant into a bodega, selling fresh produce, hand sanitizer and masks to help protect the community.
Castaneda also has teamed with YWCA to provide food boxes to seniors.
Now as the economy rebounds and health restrictions have been relaxed, Native Fields is ready to expand.
Castaneda, who hopes to finish her degree in the future, has taken over the space next door, adding a bar and additional indoor seating. And she is trying to hire more workers to staff her rebounding business, which has learned a few lessons about being nimble, taking risks and giving back to the community.
Living Sustainably One Plate at a Time
by Nancy Yeang
Husna Ridha did not suspect that the foods she ate contributed to frequent stomach and skin issues until a high school teacher asked her to notice if certain foods would trigger those ailments. After realizing that the culprit was dairy and other specific foods, Ridha switched to a plant-based food lifestyle during her senior year in high school and now mainly consumes whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and sees improvements in her skin, health, and mood.
Today, her Instagram and TikTok followers rely on her plant-based diet tips and tricks to improve their own eating habits and live more healthful lifestyles.
“I think that the plant-based diet is such a powerful tool for alleviating any sort of health issues and diseases,” Ridha, a Cal Poly Pomona nutrition and dietetics senior with a minor in plant-based nutrition, says. “I want to help other kids navigate food intolerances and allergies, so they don’t have the same issues that I did.”
Husna chose Cal Poly Pomona because of its nutrition program, which fit with her aspirations to eventually work as a registered dietitian. On campus, she works at the AGRIscapes Discovery Farm, where, pre-pandemic, she gave garden tours to grade-school students and taught them about nutrition and seed planting. She made them veggie and fruit smoothies using produce from the farm, something the younger students were surprised to enjoy because of how delicious and healthy they were.
When the plant-based food and nutrition minor opened in 2019, thanks to the support of Bipin and Rekha Shah, Husna learned more about the science behind her lifestyle and how diet can affect personal health and the environment.
“Thank you to the donors for being advocates for the plant-based lifestyle because it’s the future of nutrition care and it’s an important tool for fighting climate change and living sustainably,” Husna says. “The plant-based nutrition minor opened its doors to all majors, so it’s been really nice to see people from other majors come together to become advocates for this lifestyle too.”
Husna, eager to educate others, wants to show how easy a plant-based lifestyle can be, whether they’re at home, out with friends or even at a Southern California theme park. Using TikTok and Instagram (@plantbasedparadise) to reach her combined 21,000 followers, she posts what she eats in a day, whether she’s eating out or eating in. Many of her posts feature vegan items from restaurants, pizza joints and boba spots.
Husna took one leap further and runs a vegan bakery out of her kitchen. She created her own recipes and makes vegan and allergy-friendly desserts to sell to the public, including pop tarts, cake pops and cookies. The pandemic gave her time to test and develop more products to expand her menu.
The engagement on her social media page — some TikTok posts have more than 100,000 views — shows the interest and demand in plant-based options. If a large theme park like Disneyland is offering a variety of plant-based and vegan food options, it means there is growing demand, Husna says.
“To see a big theme park do that, it shows it can be done at any restaurant, whether it’s big- or small-scale,” she says. “Living sustainably begins with what we put on our plate.”