Farm Fresh Choice gives low-income locals a taste of quality produce
| 27 October 2004
In 2000, the Food Policy Council, a community-based food-advocacy group, started Farm Fresh Choice (FFC) to improve access to fresh produce for families living in lower-income neighborhoods of Berkeley and Oakland. (Berkeley’s Ecology Center took over the innovative program two years later.) Rather than simply preach the gospel of fruits and vegetables, Farm Fresh Choice provides weekly “mini”-farmers markets, food tastings, and culturally relevant recipes at community venues, as well as bi-annual cooking demonstrations at after-school centers. In addition, FFC connects farmers of color with urban Latino and African American communities to increase consumers’ commitment to purchasing and eating healthy foods.
“Our strategy is to use food itself as an outreach tool,” says Karina Serna, an Ecology Center staff member who coordinates Farm Fresh Choice. “When we want to send people a message, we do so by setting up a produce stand.” That message has been received loud and clear by FFC’s 350 member-households, who purchase locally grown, primarily organic produce from FFC on a weekly basis.
In 2002, FFC began working with UC Berkeley’s Center for Weight and Health (part of the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics) and the School of Public Health’s Center for Family and Community Health. The campus has provided expertise in the areas of program evaluation, design, and implementation, helping the departments “bridge the gap between researchers and people on the front lines who are working with populations in need,” according Lorrene Ritchie of the Center for Weight and Health.
Thanks to grant-writing assistance from the university, the Ecology Center recently received a three-year, $185,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Community Food Project to help expand FFC’s outreach efforts and to evaluate its impact on the low-income residents it serves. “Partnering with the university has given us more credibility with the USDA, enabling us to get funding,” says Martin Bourque, director of the Ecology Center.
Serna recently took four of FFC’s member families on a field trip to visit three of the program’s organic farms, one of which is owned by a Mexican family that once worked as farm laborers. “The children and parents helped harvest and learned about planting,” says Serna. “They were so engaged that we ended up staying way longer than we’d planned.”