Native Fields: how a community affects cuisine

By Kailee Santiago, November 14, 2023

Located in the heart of Walnut, Native Fields, run by former student Cat Castaneda, serves meals with ingredients locally grown in the city, including the farm at Cal Poly Pomona.

Restaurant owners, Cat Castaneda and her sister Christine Cornwell, opened Native Fields back in 2018 in honor of their late father. Castaneda considers the restaurant to be a legacy from her father since the funds he left helped kick the restaurant off. The restaurant was created after Castaneda left CPP.

“Native Fields” came to light seven years ago while they were both hanging around Cornwell’s porch brainstorming restaurant name ideas. At the time Castaneda adored the word “native,” as she always referred to herself as a “native Californian.” As for the word “fields,” it meant to her “a field of dreams.”

Inside the restaurant Native Fields.

Passionate to change the world, Castaneda’s dream was to help educate the youth and help the community around her. She attended CPP as an agriculture student because she was set on helping the environment and teaching those about the harm of global warming in agriculture.

“I thought my next phase in life I was going to go get my masters in sustainable agriculture to try and change the world for future generations,” she said.

She believed her next steps in school were to acquire her master’s and doctorate degrees in sustainable agriculture, but her love of food overpowered.

Owning a restaurant was never in Castaneda’s plans. Growing up, she always believed she was going to be a doctor or a surgeon. Ever since she was a kid, she always liked challenges and working with her hands. Her persistent personality is what made her take on opening her own restaurant.

Opening the restaurant was a huge challenge for Castaneda and those around her. The complex and almost inapparent details and processes arose as she began her entrepreneurship endeavors.

The restaurant also had to shut down temporarily due to covid restrictions during the pandemic making it more daunting for Castaneda.

But she pushed through those challenges as she wanted to open a restaurant to provide access to healthier options for her community.

Castaneda is grateful for the opportunities that the restaurant has brought to her and does not regret the ultimatum she made her senior year at CPP: to stay in school and study agriculture or drop out and pursue the restaurant.

“I had to drop out because I was opening my restaurant, and financially if I stayed, I couldn’t open the restaurant,” said Castaneda. “Money was on the line.”

Castaneda was born to immigrant parents in a low-income Filipino American household, where her love of food stemmed from the cultures and environment around her. Born and raised in West Covina, Castaneda found herself surrounded by abundance of different foods from other ethnicities such as Thai, Ethiopian, Chinese and much more.

Her community played a big role in her story as she believes they helped shape her to the person she is.

“As an entrepreneur, it’s inspiring to me that there are other people of color who come from nothing and can become self-educated or can surround themselves with others who are successful-minded people and become wealthy,” Castaneda said. “I find that to be the most inspiring.

Even though Castaneda never graduated from CPP, the agriculture team and professor and department chair Eileen Cullen announced granting Castaneda an honorary bachelor’s degree.

Castaneda plans to stay involve with the campus community through the Pumpkin Fest and at the farm. She hopes to return one day to earn her bachelor’s degree to achieve her life-long dream.

Just as Castaneda believes in giving back, Native Fields follows suit as they aim to support local businesses and provide access to pesticide-free and non-GMO ingredients.

As for her future endeavors, she hopes that she can continue to make a change in her community by mentoring and working with young people. She values education and hopes to one day become a professor, but for now, she believes her path is just growing.

“The universe has a plan for me,” Castaneda said.

Dishes from Native Fields.

Feature images courtesy of Native Fields

To hear more about Castaneda’s journey to success, check out the Feasting for Feminism Podcast, hosted by CPP students

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