“This is a perfect example of what can happen when multiple levels of government and community organizations work together,” said Luis Chavez, a member of the Fresno County School Board. “This is a model that we hope to expand across the city.”
UC CalFresh, part of UC ANR Cooperative Extension, provides regular produce sampling and education in classrooms to encourage children to eat fruits and vegetables. UC ANR's Shelby MacNab, UC CalFresh program manager in Fresno, said the program is also committed to increasing access to fresh produce in the communities it serves. UC CalFresh staff will stand alongside the farm stand each Thursday to reinforce the nutrition lessons and offer nutrition class sign-ups to families.
"We are absolutely delighted to support the farm stand by providing nutrition education. Pairing greater access to fresh fruits and vegetables with nutrition education is an essential combination for transforming the health of our community," MacNab said.
On May 14, the school launched the program for 2015 with fresh cherries, oranges, jujubes, squash, green onions and baby bok choy. The produce came straight from the 10-acre Reedley farm of May Vu. The low-cost fruit and vegetables can be purchased with cash or CalFresh benefits (formerly called food stamps).
The farmer connection was facilitated by John Thao, project manager with the National Hmong American Farmers Association, another partner in the food stand effort.
“We're working to sustain the economic development of small-scale farmers,” he said.
For the community around the school, the farm stand addresses the woefully inadequate grocery shopping options. Liquor stores and fast food restaurants abound. A supermarket that stood at a nearby intersection for decades is now closed.
“We want to make the healthy choice the easy choice,” said Genoveva Islas, executive director of Cultiva la Salud, one of the community organizations involved in the partnership.
Theresa Calderon, principal of Vang Pao Elementary School, said the after school farm stand is popular with the students.
“The students bring a dollar and buy cherries, strawberries, whatever is in season, rather than going to the corner store and buying a slurpee and bag of cheetoes,” she said “It's what's best for the students.”