Homegrown and Proud: Shannon Campano and the Veggielution Revolution
When Shannon Campano, ’21 Business Administration, was eight years old, the nonprofit Veggielution took up residence on a 1/3 acre of Emma Prusch Farm Park off King Road, where highways 101 and 680 converge. The organization, founded by San José State University students in 2007, aims to connect people through the land to their food and across barriers to each other.
Campano grew up in the Mayfair neighborhood of San José’s East Side, a neighborhood rich in cultural diversity but historically denied a variety of community resources. Though she felt connected to her Filipino family and neighboring community, she didn’t realize she could cultivate fresh produce, attend cooking lessons and other community events and activities right around the corner.
It wasn’t until she’d graduated from San José State that she realized she could put her new skills to work in her very own neighborhood. The idea initially felt revolutionary for someone who had been instructed, from a very young age, that to help her community, she needed first to leave it.
“Growing up, we were kind of instructed to get out of the East Side — as if we wouldn’t be successful if we stayed here,” she recalls. “Government funding wasn’t great, schools weren’t great, but it wasn’t because of the people; it was because of the lack of attention brought to our neighborhood.”
Throughout her high school and college years, Campano witnessed the Mayfair transform, thanks to the advocacy and hard work of her neighbors and fellow community members. Even basic amenities, such as improved visibility thanks to better streetlights, or better and more frequent public transportation, began to change the social and economic landscape. By the time she graduated in 2021, Campano knew she wanted to join the movement invested in helping the community thrive.
Hired as Veggielution’s administrative manager two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, Campano saw firsthand how community members directly benefited from the organization’s programs. When the pandemic made it even more difficult for community members to access fresh produce safely, Veggielution launched Eastside Connect, a program through which volunteers and staff members distribute produce grown by local farmers to low-income East Side residents who experienced the brunt of the COVID-19 shutdown.
At the height of the pandemic, Campano estimates Veggielution distributed about 2,000 boxes of fresh produce weekly. To this day, the organization still gives away about 250 boxes a week to qualifying neighbor families. Everything from the farmers who source the produce — majority Black, Indigenous and people of color-owned farmers from San José to Salinas and Watsonville — to the accompanying recipes are carefully curated.
“Eastside Connect was pivotal during the pandemic, but it is even more so now, with inflation and food prices continuing to rise,” Campano says. “But there are more issues than the food being expensive. We want to provide our community with healthy food. Some low-income communities are sometimes viewed as unhealthy because they have higher obesity rates, but that’s often because they can’t afford healthy food. We want to bridge that gap.”
Education is key to Veggielution’s mission. Starting in 2015, aspiring East Side entrepreneurs could participate in monthly cooking classes onsite, called the Cocina, using farm produce. In 2016, Veggielution offered its first cohort of six-month HomeGrown Talent fellowships to people interested in opening their own food businesses.
This led to Eastside Grown, an urban community food hub that connects San José urban agriculture and food entrepreneurs with resources, including a food truck. When the SB 946 law passed in 2018, decriminalizing street food vending, Veggielution encouraged community members to host events using food carts.
Because Veggielution’s goal is to create lasting social and economic impact on the East Side, programs like the Sí Se Puede Collective’s Jobs to Grow offered chances for entrepreneurs interested in creating childcare and food businesses to access free educational resources.
The impact is palpable, says Campano. She can see it on the faces of volunteers and staff members when they gather to work the soil, teach gardening workshops or learn from farm fellows. There are lots of opportunities for SJSU students to get involved, from farming to volunteering at the farm stand or helping box produce.
“The East Side became more of a thriving community when the people within it empowered themselves,” she says. “We need to change the narrative that East Side San José is a place where you shouldn’t be. I didn’t need to go on an ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ journey to come back and preach things to my community that we already knew. I’m glad that I stayed in San José because I saw the transformation before my eyes, and I’m a part of it.
“We’ve changed in the best way possible because the people who stayed fought for a better life.”