The Kitchen Sink 

Berkeley Food Policy Council gets fresh with the flatlands

There was little gap between Berkeley-style idealism and the pragmatism of longtime nonprofit administrators at the monthly meeting of the Berkeley Food Policy Council, which gathered at the Ecology Center on May 8. Comments about the karma of fair labor practices passing into the produce we eat alternated with strategies for seducing grantmakers with solid research data.

The Berkeley Food Policy Council was founded in 1999 by a coalition of organizations -- including the Berkeley Health Department, the Berkeley Unified School District, and the Center for Ecoliteracy -- who found common ground in their search to encourage sustainable agriculture and the need to improve the nutrition of children and families in the city's lower-income neighborhoods. With a grant from the USDA, the group developed the City of Berkeley Food and Nutrition Policy documents, some of the first of their kind.

The May meeting featured a PowerPoint presentation by Tamara Gardner, a graduate student in the UC Berkeley Public Health Department, who summarized the findings of her study of available fresh food in West and South Berkeley. Her conclusion matched what the council members already know: Not only is it harder for low-income residents of these areas to get access to high-quality, varied produce, but they also must pay more.

Of Berkeley's twelve supermarkets, only four are located in the city's west, south, and southwest census tracts. Visually surveying half of the 55 local markets and convenience stores in the region, Gardner found that 41 percent of the stores that carried produce displayed fruits and vegetables of acceptable quality, and only 18 percent offered produce at relatively affordable prices (compared to the overall average).

But is the problem supply or demand? The council's ambitious goals address both: First, they want the city to encourage the food stores in south and west Berkeley to sell more, higher-quality produce. Second, to inspire the residents of these neighborhoods to eat more high-quality foods.

How to accomplish this is the work at hand. The individuals and organizations share ideas, resources, and support to further everyone's work. One of the concrete projects that the council has taken on is Farm Fresh Choice, which sells organic produce to families at wholesale prices and teaches them how to prepare it. Almost two hundred people have become members, picking up boxes at local child-care sites weekly.

If you're interested in joining the discussion, the council meets the second Wednesday of the month at the Berkeley Ecology Center, 2530 San Pablo (at Dwight). All are welcome. For more information, visit www.berkeleyfood.org

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