Thinking fresh

Jeff vonKaenel

In the near future, thousands of Sacramento high-school students will be selling tons of fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables to schools, faith organizations and businesses throughout the region. For that, we owe Rabbi David Wechsler-Azen a debt of gratitude.

Rabbi David—as he is affectionately known—and wife, Nancy, are co-rabbis at Congregation Beth Shalom temple in Carmichael. He has organized the Fresh Producers program, which employs high-school students to distribute community-supported agriculture. The students sell bags containing 7 1/2 to 8 pounds of fresh seasonal produce, earning money for local area farmers as well as cash-strapped school programs.

“After teaching for 25 years and being the father of five children, I wondered what I could do to motivate kids to eat better,” Rabbi David explained. “I thought if they could make a little wealth, they might be inspired to make healthy choices across the board.”

Priced at $10 apiece, the CSA bags give roughly $7 back to the farmer. About $1 goes to administrating the program and $2 goes to the student or the student’s organization. If the program’s goal of distributing 24,000 bags per week is reached, it will put $168,000 in the pockets of local farmers and $48,000 into various student activities.

In short, it beats the heck out of car washes.

Considering the brilliance of the plan, it’s not surprising that organizations such as The California Endowment, Kaiser Permanente, Spiritual Life Center and Sutter Medical Center Foundation have already given Fresh Produce initial funding for pilot programs at the Health Professions High School, Luther Burbank High School and Hiram Johnson High School.

At Hiram Johnson, 45 students are already taking elective courses that focus on nutrition and health, as well as running the Fresh Producers program. Last year, they were selling 50 CSA bags per week; they expect to at least double that amount this year.

Those 100 bags represent $200 per week that will go back to the students. Knowing how much Sacramento supports its youth—particularly those hardworking kids who’ll be hauling around the bags—and how good our locally grown produce is, the plan can’t help but be a winner.

Speaking of locally grown produce, later this month, the Sacramento News & Review will launch a new weekly feature in our Green Days section that will focus on local farmers and food providers. Among other things, readers will discover what foods and vegetables are in season and where they can go to purchase them.

Like Rabbi David, we’re committed to making Sacramento a healthier and more sustainable region.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.