Written by: Lydia Yamaguchi, FoodCorps Service Member with Oakland Unified School District
This piece is an overview of FoodCorps service in one of the largest school districts in California (i.e. Oakland Unified School District). Lydia takes us a on walk through of a “typical day of service” and how Oakland Unified is promoting farm to school through direct education and weekly farmers’ market stands. On a Tuesday in April in Oakland, California.
Rise and shine (or fog, since it’s the Bay Area)
I wake up and slip on another of my food-organization t-shirts. Yogurt and homemade granola for breakfast (totally living into a stereotype). Double check I have all the bags I need and I’m out the door.
Time for school
Walk through the garden, greet school staff. Print copies for the day and get my head in the game for a 9th grade class on food systems
Show time, first class of the day: 9th grade social studies
Co-teach a lesson on food systems with Michelle, FoodCorps alumna and now staff at the high school. Today we watch a “Strawberry Fields Forever” cover by La Santa Cecilia and discuss the steps and people it takes to get a strawberry from the field to market.
Quick transitions and high school interns
Prep for the next class. My high school interns arrive. Quick run down of the morning’s lesson. I’ve recruited a cohort of students who intern at several school gardens around Oakland. They get school credit for interning two days a week teaching classes and working in the gardens. Time to switch from high school to preschool mode!
Transitional Kindergarten class: Eating the rainbow
How do we eat a rainbow, you ask? Our students wonder too! We make a salad including each color group in the rainbow: red strawberries to make our heart strong, orange carrots for our eyes, golden beets for our heart, green lettuce (harvested from our garden) for our guts and bones, and purple cabbage for our brain.
The Family Literacy Class joins us to share collages they made of rainbows made of fruits and vegetables. Students color their own rainbows and assemble their salads. We say thank-yous (“thank you orange carrots for helping our eyes!”) and then preschoolers, interns, parents, and teachers count down: 1,2,3 MUNCH! our rainbow salads.
Clean up and lunch
The interns and I debrief the lesson and plan for the afternoon. After a quick lunch break we start on our garden work – weeding, thinning sprouts, and setting up materials for afternoon classes.
Afternoon classes: Middle school
Our 7th grade gardeners get quizzed about the tools we use in the garden and use them to mix compost into our garden beds for spring planting.
After class we clean up, debrief, and my interns are done for the day.
After school: Community produce stand
It’s market day! OUSD and Mandela Marketplace, a market in West Oakland, run a weekly produce stand at our schools (read more about the produce stand program here). The market started this spring and the strawberries are already famous school-wide. It’s right next to the garden, so students dig and weed with me while their guardians shop.
Take a break
Head home for a deep breath before it’s out the door again (Tuesdays are my busiest day).
To Merritt College for a few hours of lecture and labs in “Introduction to Landscape Horticulture,” learning about plant care and botany (thinning cuts anyone?!). Today the teacher is waxing poetic about the composting methods of Elaine Ingham.
It is finally the end of my Tuesday, and I am exhausted. It’s time to get some rest while I can, because tomorrow is another day of service!
About the Author: Lydia Yamaguchi is serving with FoodCorps and Oakland Unified School District. Weekdays you can find her in the school garden, or surrounded by enthusiastic gardeners in the lunchroom. She loves to see students encouraging other students to try new things. She is the grandchild of California farmers and has a degree in Environmental Studies from Brown University. If you’re with her at meals or classtime she will probably offer you a fruit or vegetable to try.
Oakland Unified School District, through its Nutrition Services program and in partnership with East Bay Asian Youth Center, sponsors thirteen after-school produce markets throughout the district. The Oakland Fresh program seeks to provide at-cost fresh and locally grown fruit, vegetables, eggs, and nuts to school communities. A total of 70% of the students at these schools qualify for Free or Reduced Priced Lunch, and the produce market encourages healthy eating habits both at school and at home.
FoodCorps is a nationwide team of AmeriCorps leaders who connect kids to real food and help them grow up healthy. To find out more, please visit their website.