Markets Bring Fresh Foods To Low-Income Families

Photo: Patrick and Remy Miantezila of Berkeley sample strawberries at Berkeley Youth Alternatives, where Netza Romero of Berkeley works the Farm Fresh Choice produce booth.
Tollef Biggs/Photo
Patrick and Remy Miantezila of Berkeley sample strawberries at Berkeley Youth Alternatives, where Netza Romero of Berkeley works the Farm Fresh Choice produce booth.

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In some neighborhoods, children now save their allowance for strawberries and run towards produce stands as the ice cream truck drives by unnoticed.

This change has been brought about in part by Farm Fresh Choice, a Berkeley program that brings locally grown produce to low-income black and Latino communities that may not otherwise have access to such foods.

The program, run by Berkeley's Ecology Center, currently operates three weekly markets at after-school programs and community centers in West and South Berkeley.

Gerardo Marin, a co-manager of the program, said the locations are convenient for busy families. He estimates the three markets serve about 70 families total each week.

All the produce at the markets is organic or pesticide-free. Because this type of produce can be more expensive than conventional produce sold at grocery stores, the markets sell it at wholesale prices.

Berkeley resident Tanya Miantezila said the market offers more affordable choices.

"It's hard to get affordable veggies in the community so we decided to check it out," she said, as her sons sampled strawberries from the table.

The program was founded in 2001 by the Berkeley Food Policy Council, a local group of activists concerned with the disparity in the types of foods consumed by different Berkeley communities.

The council saw the disparity as directly related to the health problems these communities encountered.

The program also trains local young adults to become leaders on healthy food in their communities, Marin said.

"All of us are from the community, we're representative of the diversity of the black and Latino communities," he said. "(The youth are) trained to be advocates for food justice and to help our communities reclaim our best health through their exchange at the produce stands."

Market worker Lluvia Vela said she uses her training as a certified natural chef to show residents how to prepare the foods they buy at the markets by creating dishes for them to sample.

"It's one of my duties to help the community learn about organic, fresh produce and why they should be eating it," she said. "It's an opportunity to tell and show the community how to prepare the foods as well."

Charlotte Parker of Oakland said she values the market because of its convenience and high-quality produce.

"The stuff is fresh and good, it tastes much better than store-bought," she said. "I walk by it because I work next door. I look forward to it now."

Berkeley has also led efforts in other ways to address the disparity between food distribution across communities.

The Berkeley Farmers' Markets, also run by the Ecology Center, were the first in the state to set up a system to accommodate the new card-based food stamp system.

The Farm Fresh Choice markets also accept this type of food stamp.

Marin said the efforts of concerned groups such as the Food Policy Council have helped bring fresh produce to many different communities.

"They were concerned with making sure communities of color have access to fresh food that usually only wealthier people up the hills were accessing," said Marin. "It's our right to be able to nourish ourselves in a sustainable food system."


Amy Brooks covers environmental issues. Contact her at [email protected]

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