Forging the Food Justice Path: Part 4

Forging The Food Justice Path: Part 4

Thu 12 Sep 2013

Story by Daniel Goleman, Lisa Bennett, and Zenobia Barlow

Read part 3 here.


On an unseasonably warm afternoon in January, a group of students filed out of a high school in East Oakland—home to an area known to have the highest rates of shootings, prostitution, and drugs in the East Bay. Rosa Arciniega, a Latina mom with a white apron tied around her waist, approached the first group. “Fresh apples,” she cheerfully called, directing them to some nearby tables filled with apples, broccoli, chard, and a dozen other items under a white canopy. A few students half-heartedly walked over. Then history teacher Alfredo Matthews appeared, pulling out his wallet, waving a dollar bill above his head, and firing off questions to the newly alert group of students: “What’s beneath the atmosphere? Who can tell me how many teeth are in the human mouth? What came first: the chicken or the egg?” Every time a student gave a correct answer, he gave them a dollar bill. “But you have to spend it at the farmers’ market,” he called out.

The farmers’ market at East Oakland’s Castlemont Community of Small Schools is held every Wednesday afternoon, inside the front gate. Only a few years old, it sells primarily to teachers at this point, says Kelly Quane, a high school English teacher who volunteers to bring the produce to the school. Many of the kids don’t have the money to purchase food, she says, which is why her colleague, Matthews, made a game out of giving away money so a few kids would experience the taste of a fresh apple. Quane hopes that local residents, even just those who live across the street, will try the produce, because the prices are more affordable here than in the supermarket more than a dozen long blocks away. “But it’s a hard community. We can’t go knocking on the doors,” she says, adding that they will try leaving flyers on doorsteps.

Still, the kids see the fresh food there every week. Many receive tastings from Arciniega, whose own children are grown, and who can’t seem to resist giving out samples. And some get a good deal more involved than that. Melinda Monterroso, a senior who calls herself a “green pioneer,” is one of the East Oakland students who regularly volunteer to work at the stand. “My dad got sick because of the way we were eating. It was unhealthy. That was a wake-up call for me,” she says. “Having it here at the school is a reminder to eat healthy,” she adds, flashing a big smile.

Senior Omar Mateo says he became interested in healthy eating because of a teacher who engaged him in a school garden project and taught him about food. “She told us it was not healthy to eat chips all day. Just because it tastes good doesn’t mean it’s good for us.” He volunteers at the farmers’ market because that teacher (who has since gone back to school herself) taught him to take care of his health. He also likes that Arciniega shares leftovers with the student volunteers when it is time to close for the night.

Part 5: In tomorrow’s installment of this five-part series, the authors of Ecoliterate explore how Oakland Unified is transforming school food in the face of enormous obstacles.

About the authors: In the new book, Ecoliterate: How Educators Are Cultivating Emotional, Social, and Ecological Intelligence, psychologist Daniel Goleman and the Center for Ecoliteracy's Lisa Bennett and Zenobia Barlow profile inspiring educators, activists, and students who embody this new integration of intelligences as they creatively address food, water, and energy issues. In this story, Oakland school Superintendent Tony Smith shares his vision of a “full-service community school district” that provides an array of services to students and their families so that all children have an equal chance to thrive.

Excerpted with permission of the publisher, Jossey-Bass, a Wiley imprint. From Ecoliterate: How Educators Are Cultivating Emotional, Social, and Ecological Intelligence, by Daniel Goleman, Lisa Bennett, and Zenobia Barlow. Copyright © 2012 by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.


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