Last Friday afternoon, the sales manager at Produce Express in Sacramento, Jim Mills, drove to Chiam Lee's small farm south of Galt to pick up six cases of the most delicious strawberries you've ever tasted. Mills delivered them to Karen's Bakery in Folsom, a company that needed superb fruit for a charity event.
It used to be, Lee only sold strawberries at his roadside stand, and rarely six cases at a time. But thanks to a connection facilitated by UC, he has a new and much larger market for his produce.
This transaction is just one example of the markets that have been opened in the Sacramento and Fresno areas for farmers of Southeast Asian descent. With funding from the USDA National Research Initiative, the University of California has established partnerships with five Sacramento-area school districts and three fruit distributors to bring local fruit into more local homes, school cafeterias and restaurants.
“One of the goals of the project is to expand local market opportunities for these growers,” said project coordinator Jennifer Sowerwine of UC Berkeley. “This project brings fresh, local, nutritious strawberries into our children's school lunches, restaurants and low income neighborhoods.”
Produce Express works primarily with restaurants and school districts. Two other fruit distributors working with UC, Alchemist Community Development Corporation and Soil Born Farms Urban Agriculture & Education Project, are offering the locally grown strawberries and other fruits and vegetables at neighborhood farm stands.
The Alchemist, for example, is buying produce from small-scale farms and selling it in a working-class west Sacramento neighborhood each Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
This urban farm stand concept offers a variety of benefits:
- Fresh, local fruit and vegetables become available within walking or bike-riding distance in low-income neighborhoods.
- A wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables are available at one stop.
- Small-scale farmers have a new outlet for their produce, but aren't required to staff their own stands, as they would at a traditional farmers market.
- People can pay for the produce using electronic benefits cards.