In the Central Valley of California, crops aren't far from home. (hslo/Creative Commons)
The Central Valley of California is said to produce half of the fruits and veggies grown in the United States every year. Tomatoes, grapes, apricots, and asparagus thrive there—as do almost all other non-tropic crops. Locals should have no problem grabbing a piece of fruit, right?
Residents of Ceres, California, are likelier to get their daily veggies in ketchup at the drive-through than in a grocery store. That's because the region's produce ships out to the rest of the United States, and only returns to Ceres as processed or fast food, reports Grist.
The area is a certifiable "food desert"—an area with little or no access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Instead of grocery stores, convenience stores abound.
But there is hope. For students of Hildahl Elementary, that hope comes once a week.
The Ceres Partnership for Healthy Children (CPHC) teamed up this year with Ruiz Produce to bring a mobile produce market to the elementary school campus every Thursday. Parents who otherwise have no access to fresh foods are able to stock up, and use food stamps to do so.
The mobile stand is no full supermarket, but it's closer to the real deal than a 7-Eleven. “[The vendor] does try to keep prices competitive so the shopper has access to the fresh fruits and vegetables but at the same time is affordable to the families," CPHC Program Coordinator Lourdes Perez tells TakePart.
The improvement is crucial for the town. It faces high obesity rates and poor nutritional options. According to Grist, 65 percent of Ceres adults, 63 percent of seniors, and 15.5 percent of children are obese.
Perez explains that the effort to improve children's health includes making walking to school a safe option. "In assessing the neighborhoods, we noticed children were walking by themselves. There’s unsafe streets, and they don’t have complete streets; they don’t have sidewalks," she says.
So CPHC launched "the walking school bus," a volunteer-run bus route that operates on foot. Parents commit to shifts on the "bus route," and children wait at "bus stops" to be picked up by the parent on duty. Parents are trained in CPR, first aid and pedestrian safety.
In 2011, CPHC plans to expand the program to more schools. The response so far has assured Perez that another program will be a success. She says, with confidence, it has been "good. Very good."