Within Sacramento’s efforts to claim the title of the nation’s “Farm-to-Fork Capital,” Todd McPherson sees opportunity to rebuild communities, reduce “food deserts” in low-income areas and reclaim a generation wedded to unhealthful processed food. Part of his role at the Sacramento Chinese Community Service Center, a nonprofit that helps underserved populations achieve economic self-sufficiency, is to teach youths about growing food through gardens at schools.
How did you wind up doing this kind of work?
It’s kind of a new position that I’m carving out to help the health and wellness initiatives at school sites. We’ve found that a lot of them have neglected gardens. With me having a background in food, food systems and small farm work, it’s a perfect niche for me to get involved.
What keeps you engaged in this kind of work?
I love to be outside working in the gardens, working with my hands. There’s education involved there. And everyone is coming together for a common cause. The default then becomes a stronger community, fresher food. It just hits everything I want to do all in the same place at the same time.
How can school gardens address socio-economic issues?
It has as much to do with healthy food and how to create it as it does access to healthy food. Most of the areas that we’re in have limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables. There’s not a farmers market up the street, a Co-op or a Trader Joe’s nearby. In these communities, we find much higher instances of preventable disease – diabetes, heart disease, things like this that we know are so tied to diet. We look at the popular diet and it’s usually what’s easy – a lot of fast food and a lot of processed foods, and very little fresh fruits and vegetables.
What was your reaction when you saw kids eating that way?
It’s sad. It’s hard to see. You understand why – it’s cheap, it’s easy, it’s what’s available – but knowing what that’s doing to children’s bodies, or anybody’s body, it’s tough.
When it comes to learning, it would seem that a kid with poor eating habits won’t be able to keep up with someone who is eating well.
Absolutely. Their ability to perform in class, their ability to stay on task and be disciplined are all related to what they eat.
How do the gardens shape a new perspective about food?
That’s what’s so cool. You get them out there learning about it, and it’s hands-on education. It’s fun. They are planting or transplanting. They are taking care of the plants and watching them grow. Then they will eat or try just about anything. They take some ownership, and they’re connected.
We are the farm-to-fork capital. At least that’s part of our new identity. It sounds like it’s not working for everyone.
There is this sub-current of a “farm to every fork” rebranding by some foodie people. It’s not just a restaurant where you go and spend $75 to $100 for local organic meats. That’s cool. That’s great. But the benefits of eating local shouldn’t be restricted to just those kinds of restaurants. It’s a universal right. People should have access to fresh, healthy fruits and vegetables.
But don’t we have a lost generation when it comes to fresh food?
If you’re not used to taking raw ingredients and making meals from scratch, what use is a farmers market to you. It takes some education. We had a chef on board doing some cooking demos.
Call The Bee’s Blair Anthony Robertson, (916) 321-1099.
Program manager, Sacramento Chinese Community Service Center; Market coordinator for Valley Hi Farmers Market.
He believes school gardens can teach kids healthy eating habits, help build stronger communities and get poor neighborhoods connected to the farm-to-fork movement.