Sarah Ting, superstar FoodCorps service member, international jetsetter, and Oakland native wraps up our series on Oakland’s many inspirational Farm to School initiatives with this excellent summary of the district’s famous community markets. (For other OUSD posts, click the “OUSD” tag to the right of your screen!)
“If the organic mandarins are $1 per pound and our customer is asking for 2.5 pounds, what is her total?”
Every week, a fifth grader comes to our school produce market to volunteer his help by weighing fresh fruits and vegetables from local family farms and calculating totals for customers. He used to walk back and forth outside the elementary school simply waiting for his mother to pick him up, but now he passes the time by engaging in his favorite subject: math!
Every time I meet him at the market stand I ask him about his day, and he tells me a story about what math problems he tackled in class. Then, together, we find a way to practice the daily math lesson in our produce market tasks that afternoon. Last week, a teacher walked by and saw our fifth grade volunteer at the market. He commented, “That’s great! Those real-life situation skills are exactly what we need for common core–We should get more students helping out at the market!”
From classroom to community
That classroom connection is a major goal of our school market, which is part of the Oakland Unified School District’s (OUSD) Oakland Fresh produce market network. The network aims to build a local food system that provides Oakland families access to fresh, quality produce in high-need communities. The idea started with two markets run by a local nonprofit, East Bay Asian Youth Center (EBAYC) in 2006. Currently, OUSD operates 20 markets across the district that set up during after school hours, and are open to parents, school staff, students, and neighborhood residents alike. Each market is made possible by the dedication of school parent managers who are paid by the school or local partners.
Oakland Fresh produce market fast facts:
- 75-85% local depending on the season, delivered by Capay Organic (supports small and medium-sized family farmers!)
- 20-60 varieties of fresh fruits, vegetables, plus nuts, eggs, and honey sold at each market
- 75-100% pesticide-free or certified organic produce
- Foods that cater to OUSD’s highly diverse student and family community, like tomatillos, collard greens, chinese broccoli, as well as kale, chard, and butternut squash
- Sold over $500,000 worth of produce last year
- More than 200 community volunteers give their time to the markets regularly
- 35 hired market managers
- Cost/pricing can be the biggest challenge!
How the markets make an impact
Furthermore, the market cements the role of schools as places of learning, and also as community centers where that learning flows into families. Each week, the market manager and I cut up fruit samples that easily draw students and their parents into a conversation about produce. I often find students pulling their initially uninterested parents over to the produce market to take a sample, which leads to the whole family shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables, establishing new connections between OUSD families and the farmers that feed them. It’s for this reason that the produce markets have been a powerful launching pad for Oakland’s other work on local sourcing in the cafeteria and revamping the district’s cooking facilities and distribution system.
From the perspective of a FoodCorps service member, the school produce market is a place where students can make deep connections with the fresh produce that they are learning to try in our garden classrooms, and share those connections with their families. Though the cost of running such a program will always be a challenge, it’s an investment that pays so many dividends in so many ways for years to come!