School Produce Stand Feeds Families in Oakland

by Sarah Henry on January 12, 2010 · 28 comments

in civil eats,farmers' markets,kids & food,school food

Care to sample a strawberry or scoop up salad greens for supper when you pick up your child from school?

Since school went back last September you can do just that every Tuesday at Glenview Elementary School in Oakland, California.

Led by garden coordinator and parent Delana Toler, a small core of volunteers — some without kids at the school — work a PTA-initiated produce stand for two hours after classes are dismissed in the front yard of this public school, which serves a diverse group of families in the foothills east of Lake Merritt.

Unlike Windrush School farm stand profiled here previously, Glenview’s goal isn’t to raise school funds by selling produce. Instead, this stand serves simply to educate parents, students, and staff about seasonal, organic fruits and vegetables, and offer such produce at competitive prices, thanks to the generosity of Farmer Joe’s, a natural grocery store in the community, which supplies the stand at close to cost. (The grocer has also donated a greenhouse for the school garden.)

Parent volunteer Mark Halmi mans a tasting table to encourage folks to try unfamiliar produce. Last week Mark sauteed Swiss chard with garlic and raisins; a recent tasting made purple potato converts out of many pupils and their parents.

There’s a free piece of fruit to any child who comes equipped with a reusable tote to take produce home. (The PTA received a grant to distribute a Glenview produce bag, complete with an eye-catching mosaic design, above, to every child in the school.) Last-minute gleaners snap up whatever produce is left after most folks have long gone home.

On a visit last Tuesday I picked up a punnet of raspberries for $3.89 (they currently retail for $6.99 at my local grocer), along with rainbow chard, kiwi fruit, Arkansas black apples, and French fingerlings. Delighted that my son has recently discovered potatoes, these creamy tubers were delicious thinly sliced, sauteed & seasoned.

Depending on the season and the variety of local, organic produce available, Delana spends between $300 and $500 to stock the stand each week. And the better part of her Tuesday is consumed with stand duties.

Delana grew up on a farm in Oregon; pretty much everything the family ate came off their land. She sees the school’s vegetable garden and produce stand as a way for kids in more urban settings, including her daughter Dylan, to connect with food and where it comes from.

On a recent visit one teacher opened a window and called out: “I’m ready for you to take my order.” If principal Deitra Atkins can’t stop by the tasting table a sample is delivered to her office. Parents and kids cruise pass as school gets out with bags in tow.

Glenview is one of 10 farmers’ markets opened this fall in Oakland public schools. The other stands, the result of a partnership between the school district and East Bay Asian Youth Center, are mainly located in low-income areas in so-called “food deserts,” parts of the city in which fresh fruits and vegetables are hard to find, writes reporter Katy Murphy in a recent story for the Oakland Tribune.

What do you think of such programs operating on school grounds? In a week when school gardens in California have come under attack from some pretty snarky quarters, I’m curious to hear what others have to say about schools getting into the business of growing and selling food on campus.

(For a well-reasoned rebuttal to The Atlantic‘s “Cultivating Failure,” penned by the frequently contrarian Caitlin Flanagan, check out this Civil Eats story by slow food chef Kurt Michael Friese.)

Given my background, perhaps I’m biased, but I see tremendous benefits in an edible education and few downsides to feeding kids fresh food.

What say you?

Photos: Joseph Bansuelo

This post also appears on Civil Eats.

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{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Alexandra January 12, 2010 at 4:07 pm

I think this program sounds wonderful. Your area obviously has advantages to living in snowy New England and more people seem to grasp the whole concept …

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Sarah Henry January 12, 2010 at 6:57 pm

Yes, Alexandra, we are spoilt for weather out west, even if it has been very gloomy the past week or so, the garden keeps on giving.

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Irene Kane January 12, 2010 at 4:38 pm

This is a fabulous idea, including someone to prepare dishes which may be unfamiliar to kids and parents. Congratulations on a creative contribution to education and life! I live in the Dimond and hope to stop by.

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Sarah Henry January 12, 2010 at 6:58 pm

Irene, glad you think so, and folks should know that community members are welcome to stop by and shop as well.

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Sheryl Kraft January 12, 2010 at 4:40 pm

Wow. If this had existed when I had to make those countless trips to pick up my kids after school, I might have been a bit more enthusiastic about getting in the car every day~!

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Sarah Henry January 12, 2010 at 7:00 pm

Yes, exactly, Sheryl. No complaints on the way home either about stopping by the grocery store, cause you’ve already got the produce you need for dinner.

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Alisa Bowman January 12, 2010 at 5:33 pm

I don’t know why anyone would be against school gardens and farmer’s markets. Really, the people who protest these things must have run out of things to get ticked off about. I wish they’d focus all of that hot air in a direction where they could make a difference.

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Sarah Henry January 12, 2010 at 7:00 pm

Well and wittily said, Alisa.

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Meredith Resnick - The Writer's [Inner] Journey January 12, 2010 at 5:45 pm

I think this is such a terrific idea, far better than all the gift wrap/cookie dough/magazine sales nonsense. Thanks so much for posting this. I wish this type of thing was around before my kids graduated from public school.

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Sarah Henry January 12, 2010 at 7:04 pm

I know what you mean, Meredith, that stuff leaves me cold as well.

The Glenview Produce Stand did do a fundraiser — for a holiday harvest calendar with recipes — but at least it was on message and nicely done (see earlier post).

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Nani Steele January 12, 2010 at 8:10 pm

Farmer Joe’s has to be one of the best local grocers; I used to live nearby-and they were always all about the community, often reflected in the produce they purchased. So glad to hear they are partnering with a local school, too-such a terrific idea, if not a creative solution to raising money in a healthy fashion.

Thanks for all the good finds-

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Melanie Haiken January 12, 2010 at 11:35 pm

I recently heard about a garden project in Puerto Vallarta where the goal is to both sell the produce and have the kids take it home for free to their families. This is definitely what we’re going to need to do to get kids in poor neighborhoods back on track in terms of nutrition and fighting the obesity epidemic.

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Faith Kramer January 13, 2010 at 12:26 am

I live in Montclair and had no idea about this. Will have to stop by and truly eat “local.”

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marthaandme January 13, 2010 at 4:35 am

I love everything about this idea! The tasting table is a wonderful idea! And a free piece of fruit is also.

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Susan January 13, 2010 at 6:06 am

I love this idea, and I’m surprised that people would have a problem with it. Anything that gets kids excited about fresh produce is cool in my book!

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Kristen J. Gough January 13, 2010 at 9:51 am

I’m with Meredith. I’d much rather support an idea like this as a school fundraiser versus gift wrap. Beyond that, what an excellent way to educate both parents and children about the importance of eating healthy, fresh food. Although, I must say that in other climates a year-round produce stand would not work quite as well.

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Sarah Henry January 17, 2010 at 5:07 pm

Point well taken, Kristen, about climate challenges in other parts of the country.

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Frugal Kiwi January 13, 2010 at 10:16 am

Since I live in New Zealand where food is NOT dirt cheap and even here city people are well removed from the realities of food production, it seems odd to complain about people getting in touch with gardening.

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Vera Marie Badertscher January 13, 2010 at 10:28 am

It’s a great idea. Thanks for this post.
I glanced at the Atlantic article, which has a ridiculous premise. Like, do you think nobody with a college degree has ever planted a garden? Guess I’ll have to turn in my literacy badge next time I dig in the dirt. Home gardening is SOOOO far from being a share cropper or field worker. Get a grip!

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Almost Slowfood January 13, 2010 at 11:43 am

Great post and thanks for pointing me to the Atlantic article and Civil Eats’s response!!

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Sarah Henry January 13, 2010 at 12:01 pm

My pleasure, almost slowfood.

For folks who want to follow the entire Flanagan flap in the blogosphere, links follow.

I’m feeling less peeved about the attack with all these smart folks weighing in with wise rebuttals.

Tom Philpott: http://www.grist.org/article/2010-01-13-atlantic-attack-edible-schoolyard

Sam Fromartz: http://www.chewswise.com/chews/2010/01/the-atlantic-blames-arugula-for-californias-failing-schools

Chef Ann Cooper: http://www.chefann.com/blog/archives/1700

Jill Richardson: http://www.lavidalocavore.org/diary/3075/the-atlantic-slams-school-gardens

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Anna, The Lemon Lady January 14, 2010 at 10:25 am

I’m so excited to read this post. I have visioned this for our East Bay suburbs of Walnut Creek, Clayon, Concord or surrounding cities. Learning of nearby efforts is inspiring! Wonderful. Wonderful.

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Jennifer Margulis January 14, 2010 at 9:03 pm

I love this! My cousin teaches in the Berkeley school district and I hope they will replicate this program there.

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Katie February 4, 2010 at 2:39 pm

I am thrilled to see a farm stand that emphasizes nutritional education. This is so beneficial to children…. to make the natural connection!! I’ll be by next Tuesday!

Katie on Park

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