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Bringing Organic Food To Poor Neighborhoods

Friday July 11, 2003

When Joy Moore began researching her idea for a farmers market in West and South Berkeley two years ago, she was dismayed, but not shocked, by what she learned. 

At a booth she set up at Ashby Avenue and Sacramento Street, it was nearly impossible to give away whole bags of organic pink lady apples. All a passerby had to do to get a free bag was to fill out a page-long survey about their eating habits that would help Moore tailor a farmer’s market to fit the needs of the community. But, Moore says, the ladies —whose crispy, sweet, and juicy scrumptiousness makes them the candy of the apple family— weren’t incentive enough. 

“People just aren’t conditioned to appreciate fresh, organic produce,” she said. “A lot of people have misconceptions about organic food. It has bugs, it doesn’t taste good, it doesn’t look right. It’s too expensive, it’s hippie food. It’s because we’ve been under the influence of conventional farming for 50 years.” 

Moore said her own prejudices about organic food were shattered four years ago when she had her first taste of an organically grown nectarine. “It was so juicy, so sweet, so perfect,” she said. “That’s when I rediscovered real food.” 

Ever since then, she has been a leading holistic nutrition advocate, getting the word out on a monthly show she hosts on KPFA and getting the food out through a program she runs through the Ecology Center. Farm Fresh Choice, which celebrated its second anniversary on Tuesday, brings organic produce, grown by black and Latino farmers, at below-retail price to the minority neighborhoods of South and West Berkeley, who otherwise have to travel outside their communities to find affordable organic produce and who often have not been educated as to its benefits. 

The aim is to get more minority and low-income communities, which suffer disproportionately from diet-related diseases like heart disease and diabetes, to change their eating habits. 

“The only grocery stores around here is Canned Foods, which doesn’t have fresh produce, and Andronico’s, which is too expensive,” Moore said. “This way, we bring it to the community and we can use it as a vehicle to educate people about the importance of eating fresh fruit and vegetables that are made without pesticides or hormones, and also to remind people about the source of their food.”  

In most community sustainable agriculture programs, participants pay a set price and pick up a pre-boxed assortment of organically and locally produced food. But Moore and other Farm Fresh Choice founders discovered through their surveys that the best model for Berkeley was to place the food in areas where residents had to go anyway, such as recreation centers and child care facilities. 

Farm Fresh Choice has booths set up at four community centers throughout the city on Tuesdays. The Young Adult Project on Oregon Street and the Bay Area Youth Alternative on Allston Way serve primarily African Americans. The Bay Area Hispanic Institute for Advancement on Virginia Street targets the Latino community in that neighborhood. 

The aggressive outreach approach seems to work. Martha Cueva is the site supervisor at BAHIA, a children’s center that includes about 120 families a year. She says she has seen the program’s impact on the families she serves. 

“We have introduced vegetables to a lot of these families, vegetables they are not familiar with because they don’t have them in their homeland,” Cueva said in an interview at the recent Farm Fresh Choice anniversary celebration at the BAHIA center. “They are learning how to use them, and they are learning about their nutritional value. And it has increased awareness of eating food with no pesticides and at the same time it supports local farmers.” 

Karina Serna, co-coordinator of the Farm Fresh Choice program and coordinator of the BAHIA site in particular , says she has seen the program’s impact in the two years since its inception. “There’s no one else bringing pesticide-free, organic produce to these neighborhoods,” she said. “And it is definitely making a change. A lot of these families are eating a lot more fruits and vegetables than they were two years ago.” 

Serna points to Carlos Guerrero, who is busy packing in a box full of healthy goodies, his small daughter buzzing around him. “Carlos is a perfect example,” Serna said. “He’s here every week.” Guerrero lives nearby, on California Street near Dwight Street. “It’s a good program,” he said. “I don’t have a chance to buy it at the store a lot of times.” 

Moore said what she most likes to see is the program’s encouragement of family involvement. “When we have the booths at youth centers, we see that the children will bring their parents over when they pick them up. So they’re shopping together, and hopefully cooking and eating together,” Moore said. “Food is the thing that connects us all. It’s the nexus where everything converges in the social justice movement.”