Tomato or potato? Does Sacramento need a food revolution?

Rick Verduin serving pomegranate seeds to Castori Elementary School students. /Photo by Anthony Catafi

Rick Verduin serving pomegranate seeds to Castori Elementary School students. /Photo by Anthony Catafi

Market Manager, Arden Garden Market

While recently watching a TEDx video featuring Chef Jamie Oliver and his efforts to cook up a food revolution, I was surprised when he showed a video of classrooms in our country’s most unhealthy regions where children were asked to identify different fruits and vegetables. Perhaps it was a common reaction for the health conscious Californian, but the shock I had when these kids called a tomato a potato, and genuinely had no idea what the most basic vegetables were was disheartening. As disheartening as it was, however, I couldn’t help but wonder if there are children closer to home, maybe across the street, who only recognize pizza rolls, microwave dinners, boxed mashed potatoes, and soda.
Last month, we were invited to participate at a Holiday Celebration at Castori Elementary school in North Sacramento. Rick, our new Community Outreach Manager (who comes to us from the Netherlands), and I were thrilled to be able to introduce the market to this community as well as have a little food-related fun with the kids. General Produce donated a case of pomegranates, perfect as we wanted to encourage the children to try something new… perhaps even weird looking. The reactions we got were all across the board. One could argue two tall men offering kids’ fruit is a little scary. I tried my best and even wore a “What Does The Fox Say?” t-shirt my wife bought me last Christmas. Holding my man card tight, I admit that may have been the first time I wore it.
Overall, we had a blast. It was the kids with the suckers in their mouths, the ones that seemed more acquainted with processed foods that made the experience the most rewarding. One young student walked up and when asked if he’d like to try some pomegranate, straight up said “nope” and walked away. Minutes later, he came back…and back…and back. Needless to say, we ended up giving him a whole pomegranate to take home. There were handfuls of students just like him and we realized just how important and different this farmers’ market is.
How can people eat well if they have no access to fresh, healthy food? In many communities surrounding the Boulevard, like Del Paso Heights where Castori is located, there is no grocery store for several miles. The USDA defines a food desert as “an urban neighborhood or rural town without ready access to fresh, healthy, and affordable food.” No wonder so many of these kids were so receptive to us. It most definitely was not the t-shirt. In order to get the community to embrace our efforts, food education is critical.
The following Monday, Rick and I hosted a round table with local leaders and educators to discuss the lack of access to fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as to strategize potential food education opportunities. Members from Wellspace Health, Sodexo, General Produce, Blue Shield, The Food Literacy Center, and Council Member Allen Warren’s office were in attendance. We believed that if we could unite resources and work together, positive change could take place. The meeting connected leaders, generated ideas, and created the desire to host yet another in January to which over twenty organizations have shown interest in attending. We are hopeful that with sponsorships, and the partnerships we are forming, we will be able to reseed and cultivate a stronger food culture in our region.
IF YOU GO: The Arden Garden Market is a weekly, indoor Certified Farmers’ Market Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 1409 Del Paso Blvd. Market goers can expect to find a variety of local fruits and vegetables, bread, honey, eggs, gourmet teas, artisanal soaps, as well as arts and crafts and live music. The AGM accepts EBT and currently is only one of two Sacramento farmers’ markets with a Market Match program.

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