There’s a fresh idea circulating around our schools, and its benefits, like its vendors, just keep multiplying.
If you’ve been to Alma Academy, Spark Academy, Fuerza Community Prep, Discovery Prep or Mosaic Elementary after school recently, you may have noticed some bright new additions to their campuses – oranges, bananas, mangoes, avocados, strawberries.
Fresh Carts, a mobile produce vending initiative, is partnering with parents and school leaders to sell fresh, uncut fruits and vegetables at a growing number of schools. Modeled after the New York City Green Carts program, which seeks to increase access to healthy foods in low-income neighborhoods, Fresh Carts adapts this idea to the unique community of San Jose.
“Launching our Fresh Carts social enterprise is a realization of The Health Trust’s goal to increase access to healthy foods throughout San Jose,” explains Fred Ferrer, CEO of the Health Trust and President of Rocketship’s Board of Directors. “The introduction of Fresh Carts at local schools is only one of the many ways we are helping create healthier communities. The children make this fun, fresh and fast!”
Few people understand the importance and impact of the program as well as Elisabeth Cruz, proud Rocketeer parent and pioneering Fresh Cart vendor.
“I started with the Fresh Carts project because I am concerned about the health of my family and my community. Our community suffers greatly from diabetes. Our community needs and deserves better food options to prevent these illnesses, especially for our children.”
In fact, Joshua, Cruz’s six-year-old soccer-loving kindergartener at Discovery Prep, first inspired her to get involved. Her husband, Joshua’s father, soon became a vendor too. The eldest of Cruz’s three children, Joshua is also one of many kids in danger of being overweight. According to the most recent Community Health Existing Conditions Report, 25 percent of Santa Clara County middle school students are considered overweight or obese, and low-income students are 62 percent more likely to be overweight than middle- to high-income students.
Now, Joshua is on the right track to defy these statistics. While the New Stars Soccer League helps him exercise, nutritious food from his parents’ Fresh Carts gives him the energy to excel on the field and in class.
Of course, having entrepreneurial parents for role models helps as well. Fresh Carts creates new jobs in the community, and Fresh Carts Organizer Julian Posadas understands why vendors like Cruz are drawn to the program.
“The program has done amazing things in the lives of the vendors, many who didn’t have a job before but do now. They see it as a way to be their own boss in a way that’s creative, and make a living that’s unique and exciting.”
A partnership between Health Trust and Sacred Heart Community Services, Fresh Carts trains vendors how to run a small business, guides them through the necessary licenses and inspections and helps them broker low-interest loans to buy their cart and first batch of produce.
When you shop at a Fresh Cart though, you’re helping more than one local business owner. The program sources their produce through small farms around Northern California, with many items coming right from San Jose. The short journey from the garden to table means customers get produce at peak deliciousness.
With these clear benefits for students and families, the Fresh Carts continue to look for ways to serve the community. The Parent Teacher Council at Alma will soon partner with Fresh Carts to help fundraise for school events. At a Fresh Carts Forum on March 17th, Rocketship parents expressed interest in attending cooking lessons organized by the program. These lessons would give parents recipes to improve their family’s diet and try new kinds of produce.
Don’t expect the carts to stop there. The ever-evolving program plans to grow as Silicon Valley grows and change as the community’s needs change. If you want to witness how good food and new jobs can transform a community, make sure to get to get in line early as school gets out. Strawberries are in season and sell out fast.
Find out more about the program and check the Fresh Carts schedule here: healthtrust.org/goodtogo
A member of the Rocketship Network Support Team, Nikki came to Rocketship to help close stark inequalities in education and build the innovative schools of the future. Mentoring and tutoring throughout South Los Angeles showed her the transformational power of learning, and she is inspired every day by Rocketeers’ bright spirits and boundless potential. She earned her B.A. in Communication and Communication Design from the University of Southern California. Her other passions include community service, D.I.Y. projects, getting lost in new places, and trying challenging new workouts.
Follow Nikki on Twitter: @plaincrash