Adela and Edgar Fávila have college degrees, but not jobs.
“We would take any kind of job,” said Edgar, as he stood in line for food with Adela and their 3-year-old son. He has a degree in social work from Fresno City College, but has been relying on his Social Security payments.
Adela, who has a degree in social work from Fresno State, agreed. She worked for five years at Valley Teen Ranch, but budget constraints squeezed her out of a job about a year ago. She has received three unemployment benefit extensions.
The couple agreed that they are doing OK. They still have food and shelter for themselves and their four children.
They still have their sense of humor. “No Hawaii trip this year,” Edgar said with a laugh. He added that he would rather visit Cancún.
And they still have their hope.
“My son is trying to get into Stanford,” Adela said, adding that he’s taking four Advanced Placement classes this school year. “I’m really proud of him.”
Eddie Canal arrived at Catholic Charities at 6 a.m. Thursday morning so he could receive bags of fresh produce, and cartons of juice and milk. It was the end of the month, and the bills were piling up, so he was thankful to receive some fresh food for him and his 16-year-old son.
“It’s good healthy food that wasn’t old or getting fungus on it,” he said, as he waited to go through the distribution a second time. Canal, who is a disabled veteran, leaned on a walker as he spoke.
He, too, spoke with hope about his son’s future.
“He’s thinking of college already,” Canal said. He added his son wants to be a police officer – or maybe the mayor.
According to the report, about 75 percent of California teens live and go to school in less health food environments, where fast food restaurants, convenience stores, liquor stores, dollars stores and pharmacies outnumber grocery stores, warehouse stores and produce vendors.
In fact, the food environments in the Valley are some of the worst in the state.
For example, in Stanislaus County, there are more than 9 times as many fast food restaurants, convenience stores, liquor stores, and dollars stores, as there are grocery stores and produce vendors. In Tulare County, there are 8.6 times more unhealthy food retail options than healthy options; in Fresno, there are 8 times more unhealthy retail options than healthy ones.
This oversaturation of unhealthy food options has created a predictable situation: According to the report, soda consumption is highest among teens with the least healthy food environments near their homes and schools. Teens who live amidst the most unhealthy food options also have the highest fast food consumption.
And consumption of soda and sugar-sweetened beverages, and fast food, is linked to greater caloric intake. Eating and drinking these sugary sodas and fast food may have contributed to the rise in obesity rates, according to the report.
What sorts of solutions are available for communities like Kettleman City, pictured at the top of this page, or Pixley, in Tulare County, picture in the center?
The report recommends increasing the presence of farmer’s markets, food cooperatives, and community gardens; encouraging the development of farm-to-institution programs; developing and providing incentives to attract grocery stores and improve foods available in existing stores; and consider zoning and land use policies that improve food environments near schools and in underserved communities.
These changes are necessary to ensure our communities don’t remain “food swamps,” where there is so much food around, but nothing healthy or nourishing to eat.
For decades, Agustin Lira has created theatrical performances that promote social messages. Through his plays, Lira – the co-founder of El Teatro Campesino, who also formed El Teatro de la Tierra in 1969, and co-founded Teatro Inmigrante in 2001 – has highlighted farmworker and immigration issues.
This year, he is honing in on another social issue that is impacting the Latino community. Through a partnership with the Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program (CCROPP,) Lira and Teatro Inmigrante co-founder Patricia Wells Solórzano will develop a play about obesity. (In the San Joaquín Valley, 71 percent of Latino adults are overweight or obese.)
In a phone interview, Lira said he is confident that teatro can be used to educate the community about obesity.
“It has worked in the past to get the message out about different issues,” he said. The production, he said, can “educate people about what things are happening and what they can do about it.”
Are you interested in participating in this bilingual project? Within the next two weeks, Lira will hold a preliminary meeting for people who are interested in performing in the production. The group is looking for people with acting experience, and those without experience who really want to learn.
Volunteer actors and actresses will be involved for a period of two months of rehearsal (two meeting per week) with 5 or 6 theatrical performances at the end of the project. For more information about Teatro Obesity, contact (559) 485-8558.
Above: Lira and Wells Sólorzano perform in ‘A Yellow Rose from Texas: Emma Tenayuca’ in 2007. Photo by Juan Esparza Loera.
So what are the policies on flavored milk in San Joaquín Valley school districts? I was curious to find out how the region’s high levels of poverty, and high rates of overweight and obese kids, would play into the discussion.
Here’s a regional overview of chocolate milk policies. I’ll add more to this list as I hear about them!
In Modesto: Criss Atwell, of Modesto City Schools, said the district is keeping flavored milk on the menu, in an effort to ensure that the district’s low-income students continue to receive adequate nutrition at school.
“We have concerns that eliminating chocolate milk could impact many students’ calcium and Vitamin D intake, since lunch may be the only complete meal some students consume all day,” Atwell said in an email.
In Manteca: The Manteca Unified School District – which in 2009 won seven Gold School Awards in the HealthierUS School Challenge, through the US Department of Agriculture – is not considering banning chocolate milk from its lunch menu. (The district does not offer strawberry milk, which contains even more sugar.)
Instead, the district switched to chocolate milk made without corn syrup, and is working on reducing the number of grams of sugar per container, according to Patty Page, director of nutrition services.
“The other thing that is important to me is teaching children about making wise choices,” Page said in an e-mail. “I think that they should understand that although they may have a sweet tooth, it is healthier to choose chocolate milk rather than soda. Although it does have sugar, it also has other health benefits, unlike soda.”
In Fresno: José Alvarado, of the Fresno Unified School District, said the district is “looking into all sugars on the menu,” including in flavored milk and juices.
“It’s not necessarily just chocolate milk that has sugar,” he said in a phone interview.
In Earlimart: The district stopped serving chocolate milk in April, said food service director Clint Lara. The district now offers just 2% milk and non-fat milk.
“Yeah, we beat LA, they just got all the attention,” Lara said.
What is your take? Here’s mine: I admit, chocolate milk will always hold a special place in my heart. It tasted great with my peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in third grade.
This month, high school seniors across our region are graduating. Schools across our region are closing their doors for the summer.
Those are moments to be celebrated – except for children who rely on free- and reduced-price lunches during the school year, but have difficulty accessing nutritious meals and snacks during the hot summer months.
Some summer meal programs have already begun operating, and by Monday, the Fresno County Economic Opportunities Commission’s 101 summer meal sites will be open to youth in low-income communities. But despite these efforts, and others by area school districts and non-profit organizations, thousands of kids in California who rely on meals during the school year could be at risk of going hungry this summer.
Spread the word about summer lunch programs – and share these hotlines, which help people locate the summer meal site closest to their home, and access additional food assistance information: 1-866-3-HUNGRY or 1-877-8-HAMBRE.
Last summer, Vida en el Valle ran an in-depth series on the importance of summer nutrition programs. Read the accompanying blogs here:
Here in the San Joaquín Valley, we live in the most productive agricultural region in the world. But at the same time, our community faces high rates of obesity, diabetes, and food insecurity. Many people have little connection to the amazing fresh, seasonal, local produce grown in their backyard.
The 32-page guide is more than just an exhaustigve listing, though. It’s a celebration of the Valley’s agricultural heritage. It opens with an essay by farmer David Mas Masumoto, includes a calendar of the Valley’s seasonal harvest, and features profiles – and recipes created by – people and organizations devoted to fresh, local produce.
The guide is intended to connect community members to fresh, local produce, “so we can really change our culture and change our norms, so we are enjoying fresh produce and we are buying local,” said Genoveva Islas-Hooker, of CCROPP, during a press conference at the Garden Market in downtown Fresno’s Courthouse Park Tuesday morning.
The guide will also help the Valley’s small, local farmers connect with urban residents, and provide those consumers with the health benefits of eating local, seasonal produce, said Tom Willey, of T & D Willey Farms in Madera.
For people who want to eat locally and seasonally, the Valley is “probably the best place to live on the planet,” Willey said. The guide could “help make our food culture as big a draw as Yosemite National Park.”
The first edition of the ‘Buy Fresno, Buy Local’ guide can be found for free at www.ccropp.org or www.caff.org. All photos taken at the Garden Market, which runs every Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in Courthouse Park.
The last story in Vida’s three-part series on youth homelessness ran in this week’s edition of Vida.
This week’s story is a little different: It’s a first-person piece, written by youth journalist Marcus Vega (pictured above), about his own experience working on this project, as a formerly homeless youth himself.
His words are powerful:
In the process of hearing the stories of other homeless, I think of my own experience. I was homeless too at one point, and sort of am still since I live with a friend’s family.
All I remember is dwelling in an abandoned apartment, being hungry all the time, and the never-ending struggle to find a roof over my head.
The first part of our two-part series on youth homelessness and education ran in this week’s edition of Vida en el Valle.
The main story, about Anissa Gutierriez and her children’s struggles to access education while homeless, can be found here. The sidebar, about Susan Cavazos, and the general challenges homeless families face in accessing education, can be found here.
To accompany the stories, Vida photographer and videographer Daniel Cásarez produced the short video above about youth homelessness and homelessness in Fresno. In the video, you will meet Susan Cavazos. You will also get a tour of the Fresno Rescue Mission Emergency Family Shelter, and visit Fresno’s homeless encampments.
If reading these stories, and watching this video, inspires you to do something to help the homeless in our community, consider this: The Fresno Rescue Mission shelter accepts all sorts of donations. Shelter manager Robin Bump (also featured in the video) told us the shelter especially needs bath towels right now.
Donating is easy. Call (559) 440-0870 to arrange for clothing and household goods to be picked up at your home. You can also deliver used goods to the Mission’s Super Thrift Store, 181 E. Sierra, or to the Donation Station, 310 G St.
Next week: The challenges unaccompanied homeless youth face in accessing education.
What is the recipe for preventing childhood obesity?
At Joe Serna Jr. Charter School, a bilingual school in the 32.4 percent Latino city of Lodi, in San Joaquín County, the recipe calls for one professional chef, one nutrition instructor, one school kitchen, and 18 energetic middle school students.
Last Wednesday afternoon, those ingredients blended together to create tortilla pizzas — and a lifetime of healthier habits.
Check out the video below to see Chef Ruben Larrazolo, chef at Alebrijes Mexican Bistro in Lodi, teach members of the Joe Serna Cooking Club to slice green onions, cut avocados, assemble a pizza and – in the process – learn to enjoy preparing and eating food together with loved ones.
What you won’t see in the video, though, is that by participating in the cooking club – part of the Chefs Move to Schools initiative, through First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign to end childhood obesity – students have already made changes in their eating habits.
More than 15 percent of Latino youth in the San Joaquín Valley were overweight in 2007, according to the California Health Interview Survey.
“Before I would eat a lot of junk food, like Hot Cheetos and soda,” said Hector Enriquez, 12, a 6th grade student. “Now I actually eat fruit and vegetables.”
“We would go to fast food restaurants every week, and I have really stopped eating there,” said Jennifer Barrón, 11, a 6th grade student. Now, she said, “I would get just a smoothie and that’s all.”
Did that video whet your appetite for a tortilla pizza? Here’s the recipe:
1 16-oz cans refried beans
2 pounds ground beef, or any beef
3 ounces of taco seasoning mix
1 package of whole wheat tortillas
1 ½ pounds shredded cheddar cheese
16 tablespoons our cream
2 green onions, diced
1 4-oz can diced green chiles, or fresh chiles from the garden
2 avocadoes, diced
2 tablespoons black olives, sliced
1. Heat the refried beans
2. In a large skillet, brown the ground beef. Stir in the taco seasoning.
3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
4. Place a small amount of vegetable oil in a large skillet. Let the oil heat, then place one tortilla in the skillet. After 15 seconds, flip the tortilla over and let it fry another 15 seconds. Repeat this process with remaining tortillas.
5. When the tortillas have been heated, arrange them on a cookie sheet.
6. Spread a thin layer of beans on the tortillas, followed by a layer of beef and cheese.
7. Bake the tortillas in the preheated oven for 20 to 30 minutes. Slice the tortillas into wedges, arrange them on a serving platter, and garnish them with sour cream, tomatoes, green onions, chiles, avocado, and olives.
Read more about the Joe Serna cooking club, and the Chefs Move to Schools program, in the next edition of Vida en el Valle.
What did you have for breakfast this morning? I had oatmeal, cooked with almond milk, and topped with walnuts and dried blueberries.
Ask that question to a student though, and you might get some surprising answers. At Earlimart Elementary School, some students said they ate spaghetti, pizza, tamales, and Cocoa Puffs early that morning.
Others did not eat anything until 9:30 or 10 a.m. during the school’s Second Chance Breakfast, which the school offers to kids who did not make it to the school’s breakfast before the bell rang that morning.
Across the San Joaquín Valley, more school districts are beginning to implement non-traditional breakfast programs, like the Second Chance Breakfast in Earlimart. The programs are intended to improve a startling statistic: In California public schools, 2.3 million, or 70 percent of students eligible to receive free and reduced-price meals, are missing out on the benefits of a nutritious school breakfast.
(What is the school breakfast participation rate in your school district? Check out this table , from California Food Policy Advocates’ BreakfastFirst Campaign, to find out.)
By skipping the first meal of the day, students, families, and teachers lose out on so many benefits.
Studies show that breakfast increases kids’ health and improve their academic achievement. Also, teachers report fewer behavioral problems and higher attendance rates, school nurses see fewer students complaining of stomach aches, and school districts benefit from federal meal reimbursements.
“For me, from the beginning, it has almost seemed like a no-brainer,” said Ellen Braff-Guajardo, senior nutrition policy advocate with California Food Policy Advocates’ BreakfastFirst campaign. “It’s an opportunity for student to receive breakfast at school, and to help families in these economic times be able to meet other bills, like housing, and other necessities of life.”
Approaches like the second chance breakfast in Earlimart, and the classroom breakfast in Modesto and Sanger, are making a difference in the number of kids eating school breakfast. Read more about these programs and their benefits in the next edition of Vida en el Valle.
Want to read more from this blog about school meals, and their impact on children’s health?