Nothing Beats the Real Thing

Juicy slices of guava, kumquats, grapefruits, oranges, apples, strawberries, and carrots flared out in front of me—at least for a moment, because soon all the little hands were taking them away faster than I could chop. I stood in Malcolm X Elementary School’s blooming, magical garden at a homemade wooden stand, passing out the delicious treats. Throngs of kindergarten through fifth graders enthusiastically raced for these fresh tastes from the Tuesday Berkeley Farmers’ Market: fruits and vegetables from Swanton Berry Farm, Smit Ranch, Brokaw Farms, Guru Ram Das Orchards, and Full Belly Farm.
March was National Nutrition Month, which generates all kinds of activities in Berkeley elementary schools. As the local farmers’ market rep, my role is to show up with boxes of fresh produce and discuss the importance of nutrition. I can talk all I want, but it’s the tasting that demonstrates the superiority of fruits and vegetables straight from the soil.
“What is that? Can you eat the seeds?” asked an excited young girl.
“It’s a guava, and the seeds are good for you,” I replied.
Then came the challenge of getting the kids to eat the skins of kumquats, which look like little baby oranges. “Should I really eat it?” a boy asked doubtfully.
“Let’s all eat one at the same time!” I  suggested.
Five kids got in on the action while I counted “One….two…..three!!!!!” As we  simultaneously chomped on our kumquats, one girl scrunched her face up while the rest of us chewed with huge smiles. Yum!
The Nutrition Month visit is only one of the ways the Berkeley Farmers’ Market staff works with Berkeley Schools. The Ecology Center’s Schools to Farms Program brings us right to the classroom. We focus on schools in which at least fifty percent of the students qualify for free school lunches. This year, starting in April, we’re emphasizing nutrition and agriculture  education for fourth graders, including  all kinds of activities and games involving organic farming and pesticide use, the  food pyramid, vitamins and minerals,  fats and oils, and California agricultural history. This summer, we’ll lead school field trips to the Tuesday Farmers’ Market to introduce kids to their connection to community agriculture.
After my produce boxes were emptied and my stand cleared out, I packed up as Malcolm X’s school gardener, Rivka, led a strawberry planting in celebration of the work of Cesar Chavez. As I walked away, the gleeful sounds of kids digging filled  the air.

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