Written by: Cassie Spindler, FoodCorps Service Member with Oakland Unified School District
There are so many joyful moments as a FoodCorps service member, and they originate from the biggest successes, like sourcing 17,000 weekly servings of local and organic oranges for our Harvest of the Month program, to the smallest, like a student coming back for second helpings of a new food after you had to wheedle them to take first helpings to begin with. And there are teachable moments aplenty as well, as many for you as for your students. Of course: sometimes the days are long, sometimes there’s fried rice from recipe testing stuck to the inside of your car, and sometimes the bureaucracy of effecting change seems insurmountable, but at the end of the day, everybody agrees: we do it for the kids.But more often than not, we also find joy in supporting the adults who are there for the students before we’ve ever shown up and will be there after our service year is over too. Being part of the mechanism that empowers adults to make healthier choices for themselves and makes them into awesome role models is a truly humbling experience. I’ve seen this no better than in the unique privilege of getting to serve in a position where I see our hard-working community-sourced produce market managers flourish at our sites.
A year ago, Ceanna Vangelder wrote a blog post all about setting up a produce market in the parking lot of a school. Her post beautifully describes more concisely and thoroughly than I could ever hope to achieve how the Oakland Fresh produce markets came to be, and the impact they can have on a school’s community. I feel lucky today to be able to provide you with an update on East Oakland Pride’s produce market, and to hopefully tell you about what FoodCorps service can look like in this type of capacity.
Ericka Evans and Valerie Hicks are East Oakland Pride employees, and also volunteered with Ceanna last year during the entire duration of the produce market. After Ceanna’s departure at the end of her service year, they showed themselves to be exemplary candidates to run the market themselves. They were both already woven into the fabric of the school community, had the knowledge to run the market, and displayed passion and dedication to the produce market that is thoroughly inspiring.
In acting as a supporting role for all our market managers, I have spent time training Ericka and Valerie to use software to manage their ordering and inventory, we discuss marketing skills and ideas, and every time I visit their market, I delight to see them and their market flourishing. Each week since Ericka and Valerie have taken the reins of the market, they have gotten more fruits, vegetables, and nuts into the hands of the community around them. I see that they have become smarter businesswomen and are empowered by their successes.
This is exactly what a sustainable and successful FoodCorps service term looks like. Ceanna was able to forge a path for a produce market and train volunteers at the same time. In my service term, I have supported the transition from volunteer to star employee, and relish the day that Ericka and Valerie are entirely self-sufficient from needing my support, not because I do not enjoy all that we learn from each other, but because it will mean that effective and lasting change has been made, and that a culture shift towards healthy eating continues at East Oakland Pride.
About the Author:
Cassie Spindler comes to FoodCorps after completing her studies at UC Berkeley and volunteering at multiple non-profit organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area these past couple of years. Now as a FoodCorps Service Member with Oakland Unified School District, she supports the district in its healthy food initiatives, including California Thursdays with the Center for Ecoliteracy. When she’s not in the office, you can find her conducting taste tests with high school youth and managing the district’s weekly produce markets at nearby schools.
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. If you are interested in visiting one of our produce markets, please find our schedule here or feel free to contact Cassie Spindler for more information.
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.