Pink ladies are today’s main attraction outside Bahia Child Care Center in Berkeley, where a pair of preteen sisters is herding their mother toward the Farm Fresh Choice stand to buy a big bag of the apples. “They came by earlier to buy apples with their own money,” whispers Caroline, a volunteer outreach worker.
I feel like we’re observing fawns in the forest, speaking gently so we don’t scare them away from the healthy stuff. “What do you like about pink ladies?” I finally ask one of the girls. “They’re very, very, very sweet,” she replies, carefully measuring out her verys.
Three years ago, nutrition outreach specialist Joy Moore and a band of volunteers from the Berkeley Food Policy Council gave away the apples for six Saturdays in a row to get the attention of South Berkeley residents. They wanted to learn what kind of produce folks would buy if it were available to them.
The FPC is a coalition of volunteers, schools, nonprofits, and city agencies devoted to improving nutrition in the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Its original plan involved a produce truck, but that was too costly, so the council settled on the idea of peddling fresh, inexpensive fruits and veggies in areas that have almost none. “When the grocery stores leave, we forget the art of cooking food, the art of shopping for food,” Moore says.
Every Tuesday afternoon for the past three years, Farm Fresh Choice has set up mini farmers’ markets outside three after-school programs and schoolyards in South and West Berkeley. The stand sells beautiful organic edibles to neighbors and parents picking up their kids, and also gives cooking demonstrations. Its myriad workers take pains to learn every customer’s first name.
Money from the California Nutrition Network and a host of foundations allows Farm Fresh Choice to buy bulk produce from local farmers and sell it at cost. Families can become members for as little as $7 a week. That’ll buy five daily servings for one person. “You’d be surprised at how big a bag you can walk away with,” says program co-coordinator Christine Cherdboonmuang.
Indeed, a huge bunch of carrots, their tops feathery and fresh, sells for two bucks, and dino kale and collard greens go for a dollar a bunch. According to Cherdboonmuang, eighty families have signed on, and quite a few nonmembers stop by for a couple kiwis or a dozen eggs. Few spend more than $5.
There’s also plenty to nibble on for free. “Can I have a sample of that apple?” asks a teenage boy sporting braids and an oversize basketball jersey. Volunteer Malaika doles him a slice, and the teen nods his thanks and dashes back to his friends. The young workers eat almost as much of the fruit as they give away, demonstrating to anyone in sight just how very, very, very sweet it is.