Archive for the ‘farmers' markets’ Category

School Produce Stand Feeds Families in Oakland

January 12, 2010

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

San Francisco’s Fabulous Food Festival

November 8, 2009

sf.expo.centerI’ll be blunt: I had low expectations. I’d detected no buzz about the SF Fab Food Fest beforehand. And I couldn’t find a list of food sellers online. The venue, the Concourse Exhibition Center, didn’t look promising either. Three strikes right there.

But it wasn’t out of my way so I stopped by en route to the Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market. Still, I mulled over why anyone would opt to go indoors to a convention hall on a gorgeous fall day to sample food when fabulous fresh produce and gourmet goodies awaited just down the road — in a truly fabulous waterfront setting.

A quick sweep of the booths and I’d be on my way. Happy to report I was pleasantly surprised by some of what was on offer.

The pick of the stalls I perused:

spice.houndSpice Hound: This South Bay-based company won me over with their 2 ounce-tins of Middle Eastern spice blends Za’atar and Dukka. A staple of many food pantries in my hometown Sydney, Dukka is a mix of sesame seeds, hazelnuts, coriander, and cumin. It’s added to olive oil and/or balsamic vinegar to jazz up bread dipping sauce. Za’atar (thyme, sumac, white sesame seeds, and sea salt) is used in the same way or added to vegetables or hummus for extra zing.  Bonus: Check out Spice Hound’s Chai Tea recipe here.

mums.chutneysMum’s Homemade: A sucker for a cheese & chutney sandwich, a childhood staple, I spotted these preserves made by East Bay cooks Briony Bax and Margaret Heafey, who specialize in British fare using natural ingredients produced in the commercial co-op Artisan’s Kitchen in Richmond. A toss up between the subtle charms of Autumn Chutney, made with apples and pears, or the robust Date and Banana Chutney.

tres.classique.oils

Tres Classique: The Garlic Classic Dipping Oil, from this Ukiah custom balsamic vinegar and oil outfit, is thick and oozy and made with grapeseed oil, 18 year old aged balsamic, garlic, parsley, pepper flakes, and sun-dried tomato. It will probably not last long in my house and needs nothing else beside a crusty loaf of bread to enjoy.

Thumbs up as well to the tropical zip in the mango marmalade from Carol Hall’s Hot Pepper Jelly Company and the pungent, deep brown Greystone Herb Garden Honey harvested from hives at the organic garden of The Culinary Institute of America in the Napa Valley and sold by farmers’ market staple Marshall’s Farm Honey.

Speaking of farmers’ markets…I started to get that claustrophobic feeling typically induced by such closed, unnaturally-lit environs and began pining for  the great outdoors. It was time to skedaddle out of the concourse center and take my condiment-laden self off to the Ferry Building in pursuit of fresh food and a loaf of Acme bread to pair with my purchases.

Lesson learned: Keep an open mind. Who knows what gems you might stumble upon in unexpected locations?

San Francisco Fabulous Food Festival, November 7th & 8th, 10am-5pm, Concourse Exhibition Center, 8th & Brannan Sts., San Francisco

The Lemon Lady: Feeding the Hungry, One Bag of Produce at a Time

October 22, 2009

The Lemon Lady needs a new nickname, methinks.

Anna Chan, 37, has outgrown the title, which doesn’t begin to describe the difference this anti-hunger activist has made in less than a year in her one-woman campaign to get fresh produce into the mouths of people in need in her community.

This stay-at-home mom from Clayton, in Contra Costa County, has (almost) single-handedly harvested, by her own estimates, 12,000 pounds of local produce from neighbors’ front yards. She’s also collected more than $60,000 surplus fruit and veg from local farmers’ markets, which she hauls in the back of her SUV to food pantries in her area. And she’s donated hundreds of seedlings and helped plant veggie gardens in her county in the hope that she can inspire others to grow their own row — and feed their families whole food.

In September I spent several hours watching Anna in action. We met at one of her many pet projects, a modest but thriving veggie patch in a low-income neighborhood of Concord. (Anna got involved with the garden after being approached by Kathy Gleason,  corporate donations coordinator for the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, who sewed the seeds for this edible effort on her own time by getting to know the neigborhood and seeking out other volunteers.)

Out of one of the apartments popped a proud mom who gave me a spontaneous tour of the garden before Anna even pulled up. Begun with seedlings tended and donated by The Lemon Lady, the summer bounty included tomato, eggplant, pepper, and squash. When Anna arrived, the three of us chatted about the challenges of raising corn and the ease of growing Asian greens such as mizuna. We were just three moms, one Japanese, one American, one Australian, talking about the joys of making tomato sauce from scratch with homegrown produce to feed our hungry kids.

anna.chan.lemon.lady.2Before we left, Anna gave the grateful woman a seed catalog, with the promise of more seeds to come for a fall crop. Next stop: The lively Concord Farmers’ Market, where Anna distributes cardboard boxes and chats with vendors when they’re not serving customers. Farmers such as the pear purveyors from Alhambra Valley Farms and the Bautista Ranch veggie peddlers willingly pack up leftover produce for her to cart away at the end of the market to take to local food pantries, including the Salvation Army, SHARE Pantry, and Monument Crisis Center.

While the market was in full swing, I sat down with Anna to get a sense of what drives this former office manager to spend hundreds of hours volunteering for the greater good, one piece of produce at a time.

Reading between the lines, I suspect that a challenging childhood, made a little less rough by the kindness of strangers and community volunteers much like herself, serves as a constant reminder of the importance of giving back.  That’s not some pat charitable phrase for this petite and pretty woman; she knows what it’s like to encounter tough times and deal with health concerns. Now, blessed with a thriving toddler, a supportive dentist husband, and a happy home life, she wants to help others less fortunate than herself. Plus, the gal has a big heart, a passion for nutritious home cooking, and energy that doesn’t quit. (Typically she does a farmers’ market surplus run four days a week.)

Anna’s efforts add a public service spin on the au courant activity known as fruit foraging. She combines two old-fashioned concepts: gleaning and doing good, and in a time of great need (one local food pantry recently closed for a day; demand is so high it ran out of food) she simply cannot stand to see perfectly good produce go to waste.

Not surprisingly, those she comes in contact with sing her praises. “She’s a local gem,” says Jessie Neu, the director of the Contra Costa Certified Farmers’ Market. “She’s a life saver,” says one food-distribution volunteer from a local food bank. The California Garden Clubs recently honored Anna for her community service and her efforts to promote growing greens and getting fresh, nutritious food to hungry people.

And it all began way back in February, when this suburban mom was simply trying to find a way to soothe her colicky child to sleep. Anna resorted to driving her fussy, nap-fighting toddler, so Ava would drift off to the Land of Nod. (Oh, boy, do I remember those car rides from my own sleep-resistant son’s early days.)

As Anna tooled around her neighborhood she saw trees laden with luscious lemons ready to drop and rot. Where others saw potentially fallen fruit, Anna saw good food needing a way to get to the hungry.

So she worked up the courage to knock on strangers’ doors to ask homeowners if she could collect their excess fruit for local food pantries. And she left fliers letting her neighbors know that she’d noticed their bounty and wondered if they’d be willing to share their surplus by leaving a bag or two for food bank donations, or allow her to pick their extra produce. The response? Overwhelmingly positive. People have happily donated lemons, as well as oranges, apricots, plums, peaches, tomatoes, beans, and zucchini.

Anna’s on a mission to spread the word that many food banks gladly take fresh produce. “Many people don’t know where their local food pantry is located and don’t realize that food banks will gladly take fresh produce,” says Anna. A lot of people, she points out, incorrectly assume that only canned goods or government surplus food is acceptable in such places. Not so.  (Check out a revealing New York Times Magazine article for the back story on why food banks are now accepting more fruit and veg in the recent Food Issue.)

To learn more about The Lemon Lady, visit her blog, where she champions the work of food banks and farmers, shares the joy of growing food with her daughter, and encourages others to follow her example in their own communities.

Check out one of her favorite baking recipes: lemon bars, of course.

And if you have an idea for a more fitting moniker for this food advocate, please share it below.

Images courtesy of The Lemon Lady blog.