“I started out just scrubbing walls,” says David McClellan, age 21. “Hours of scrubbing walls and painting classrooms.”
If there ever was a ladder to climb to get into urban agriculture, David started at the very bottom. He came to the Ecology Center as a court-ordered juvenile, required to work off eighty hours for getting caught doing something stupid. David didn’t know the first thing about gardening, farming, or healthy foods. He just needed to work off hours and HuNia, the Farm Fresh manager, had plenty for him to do.
But a funny thing happened during the three weeks it took for David to complete his hours. In addition to scrubbing the walls, he attended the events happening through the Ecology Center: food giveaways, healthy eating demonstrations, even a national conference where scientists talked about new innovative technologies. He liked what he was seeing and learning.
HuNia offered David an internship after he completed his community service. The Ecology Center had a program called Farm Fresh Choice that coordinates, markets, staffs, and stocks produce stands in Berkeley.
Yes, the same Berkeley, CA where organic food has been vogue for decades has pockets of food insecurity, neighborhoods and residents without access to fresh, affordable, healthy food.
“Berkeley has deep pockets of poverty and health dispairiteis,” says Martin Bourque, executive director of the Ecology Center. “Part of our CFP grant evaluation work included a 1999 health status report that correlated race and income with health outcomes. To see it on paper and understand that connection was fairly ground-shaking for the community. Large % of disparities were changeable and behavorial related.”
The Ecology Center, via Farm Fresh Choice conducted further surveys in the community to assess how to better infiltrate the specific need-based neighborhoods with healthy food stands. They found that location meant a lot. The stands needed to be in place of regular transit.
The surveys also revealed that the stands needed to be set up within a culturally appropriate context. So Farm Fresh Choice partnered with an after school program that offered employment for eligible youth. Training local youth to manage the stands means the seller matches the buyer and it breaks down a common problem in cities like Berkeley where lower-ioncome residents view “organic farm stands” as elitist and not for them.
“We never really used word ‘organic, even though most produce is’” says Martin. “We talk about ‘healthy’ and ‘toxic-free.’ And we bring the price down through buying in bulk and having long-term relationships with the farmers.”
So David started assisting the three stands spread around town. He couldn’t tell the difference between lettuce and kale or parsley and cilantro. He didn’t know what ‘organic’ meant. And he ate mostly a diet of fast food and sodas.
After assisting for a while, David became a stand manager. Then he assisted HuNia in managing all three stands, the whole enterprise. He rode in the van with HuNia to gather the produce from the farmers market and to pick up the staff. Then HuNia turned that job over to him, as well. So David no manages the produce stands, driving the van, picking up the food and the staff and shutting everything down. That’s Tuesday.
On Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, David handles the logistical stuff – check the books and send to accounting, run the market segment of the weekly meeting, and contact farmers to place orders for the following Tuesday. He’s been with Farm Fresh Choice for over two years now.
“I’m not going to say I don’t still eat the junk food some,” he says. “But I eat much better. I drink more water. I try to give my family knowledge and my dad and step-mom are loving it. They shop at the market and I bring food home with me. I don’t really see my buddies back in Richmond getting into the market and this food, but maybe they will.”
David starts school at Berkeley City College in 2013 where he wants to study business.
“Working with Farm Fresh Choice is the ideal job for school. It’s so flexible. Out of high school I just thought I wanted to play football or be a sports agent. But this food thing has come out of nowhere. Now I think about being a nutritionist and teaching other people. Wait, maybe I could be a sports nutritionist. I bet they need those. I just thought of that right now!”