Oakland Unified School District’s Fresh Markets Program Staff Visit Farm

Mini Farmers Market – Fresh Markets Program
Esperanza/Korematsu Elementary School
Oakland Unified School District, CA – 

We, Georgeanne Brennan and Ann M. Evans, visited this farm stand in Oakland while interviewing Sylvia Fong, Food Services Manager at Esperanza/Korematus ( see 9/4/12 blog interview). This summer, the staff of the Fresh Markets Program visited our blog’s sponsor, Farm Fresh to You, on their farm, Capay Organics, in the Capay Valley located in rural Yolo County.

Dr. Kathleen Merrigan, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently told us in an interview for an upcoming blog that what really helps building a local and regional food system — is meeting a farmer. You have a different attitude if you meet a farmer, you think about things in a fundamentally different way. Now Oakland Fresh Market Program staff have met a farmer.

Barbara Archer, Farm Fresh to You Communications Manager, is our guest blogger on the visit.

Guest Blog by Barbara Archer, Communications Manager, Farm Fresh to You
California’s Oakland Unified School District recently sent staff from their Oakland Fresh Markets Program to the farm to see where the produce comes from that they sell through their produce program at school sites. The Oakland visitors saw acres of fields with golden hills in the distance.

The farm is about two hours by bus from Oakland. Capay Organic sells produce directly to Oakland Unified for its Fresh Markets Program that in turn sells produce at 22 school sites in inner city Oakland communities. The farm is about 400 acres and grows 60 types of fruit and vegetables (100 varieties).
The group, which included Oakland’s Director of Nutrition Services Jennifer LeBarre (far right), was able to talk directly with farmer and co-owner Thaddeus Barsotti about his farming methods and why he feels it’s important to know your farmer. “As a farmer, there is no greater thrill than meeting the people whose families have benefited from the food you grew,” said Barsotti. “The OUSD Fresh Markets Program is a model that should be replicated in many urban areas to ensure that school children are getting the nutrition they need and the healthy eating habits that can follow them for their entire lives.”
“I think we picked our weight in produce,” said Alex Emmott, Farm to School Supervisor, Nutrition Services Department for Oakland Unified School District. “I loved seeing our staff able to connect with the farm on a personal level. In an urban environment like Oakland, we often forget the bounty that surrounds us. This was a great reminder of what local really means for our kids and our community.”
They also toured the farm’s cold room to see how the produce is stored after harvesting – wearing their hairnets of course. These are the men and women that run the program. The Fresh Markets Program sets up mini farmers markets at the schools that are staffed by parent volunteers, many of who attended this field trip. The Fresh Markets sell a wide array of fruits and vegetables, with special attention given to the culinary preferences of the cultures represented on each school’s campus. Students buy produce or may receive “student buyer cards” from teachers that are redeemable for $0.50 worth of produce – a small bag of strawberries, grapes or an apple/orange, etc.

The mini farmers markets sell to families, students, staff and the community at large. This program serves about 8,500 students. The 2012-13 school year mini farmers markets just got started for the new school year in the week of September 24. The Oakland Fresh Produce Markets, or Fresh Markets Program as it is called, was piloted by a local non-profit, the East Bay Asian Youth Center (EBAYC), and then expanded in partnership with OUSD.

The main source of grant funding for the expansion was the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The program also received grant funding from the USDA Community Food Projects Grant, The California Endowment and Con Agra. “Our focus is affordable, local, sustainable and mostly organic produce,” said Emmott. All schools in the program have student populations of which more than 70% qualify for free/reduced school meals, and are located in neighborhoods that have an abundance of liquor stores and corner stores that up until now have been the primary source for groceries.

Here’s a link to a great video about the Oakland Fresh Markets program: http://vimeo.com/48600865

Farm links: www.capayorganic.com

Farm Fresh To You CSA: www.farmfreshtoyou.com

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