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A new farmer’s market grows at Children’s Hospital

on July 1, 2009

Patients and doctors at Children’s Hospital are now meeting Tuesdays at the new farmer’s market that takes place from 2 to 7 in the parking lot.

Jen Cook, a pediatrician there, teamed up with Brett Bennner from Phat Beets, on Mandela Parkway, to establish the market.

Doctors and patients are excited about the farmer's market outside the Children's Hospital.

Doctors and patients are excited about the farmer’s market outside the Children’s Hospital.

Cook was inspired after seeing the market at Kaiser in Oakland.

“A light bulb went off. It makes total sense,” said Cook. “A hospital is a place of healing and health. A lot of the things we do are after the fact and it just made sense to me to have one accessible in the neighborhood.”

Although the market is small, with only two farmers, Cook still sees it as a benefit.

“We have families whose kids are chronically ill and they’re here in the hospital for two or three months,” said Cook.  “If they can go out and get something fresh is a bonus.”

Moreover, she added, this is only the beginning. If all goes as planned, the farmer’s market will become part of the hospital’s Healthy Hearts program, a series of workshops where parents and children learn about fitness, nutrition and healthy eating. Dr. Lydia Tinajero-Deck, a pediatrician in the obesity prevention clinic, will administer the workshops and at the end of each session she will  distribute vouchers that parents can use at the market..

“It’s hard for a lot of our patients here to get fresh produce that’s affordable,” said Geetika Sengupta, a doctor who is completing her residency. “We tell them they should eat healthy but they can’t because they can’t afford it or it’s not accessible. Now they can.”

The new market joins at least seven in Oakland, including those at Grand Lake, Jack London Square, Temescal, East Oakland, Kaiser and Alameda Farmers Market.

Marlinda Watson found out about the market through a flyer at the hospital’s cafeteria.

“I’ve seen plenty of hot dog people come and go,” said Watson, who has worked at Children’s hospital for 25 years. “But never the fresh fruit. I love it. Now we wait for them to come on Tuesdays.”

There’s almonds, peaches, plums; an ideal lunch break. Located behind the Outpatient Center, workers brush their blinds aside to see the fresh produce. Many on Tuesday came down to grab a bag full of peaches.

At the empty hot dog stand across the street, Ameer Bakhtaly said he’s not worried about the competition because the market only operates one day a week.

“It’s a little slow right now,” said Bakhtaly who has been selling hot dogs, Cheetos and soda there for five months. “But every business is like this.”

Nurses in scrubs picked up bouquet of organic flowers. Some passed through, snatched a peach and, without giving it a second thought, give it a bite.

“I’m just a pediatrician, I don’t know how to start a farmers market,” said Cook, who cites Phat Beets Produce as part of the produce stand’s success.

Completely run by volunteers, Phat Beets holds fundraisers and receives small grants to recruit students in North Oakland to hold conversations about nutritious eating. They also connect small farmers in local communities.

“Having it at the hospital is great,” said Brett Benner, manager of Fresh Beets. “The best kind of healing is access to fresh produce.”

As he walked through the farmer’s market Benner’s dreadlocks were held together by a bandana and his baggy cargo pants swayed in the wind.

“It’s a great location for the community we want to serve,” said Benner.

Karina Rodriguez, 30, goes to the Fruitvale Farmers Market regularly and found the one outside the Children’s Hospital after taking her four-year-old daughter Breanna to get a sling for her broken arm.

“I like this fruit better,” said Rodriguez. “I go to Mexican stores and they make promises that they’re fresh and sweet but they’re never either.”

Rodriguez said she liked that the market allows her to mix and match different fruit-a  rare option in other farmers markets.

“I’ve always loved healthy food and encourage my daughter to do it, too,” said Rodriguez.

Rodriguez grabbed a bag of fruits and as she headed for her car. Her daughter, in a sling, ran toward the almonds. She pleaded for a $5 bag but stopped after her mother gave her a peach.

While Leslie Juarez, 7, played with a new toothbrush the hospital has given her, her mother begins to fill a bag with plums.

“They need to see how important is to eat healthy,” said Rosea Juarez, who was exiting the hospital when the farmers market caught her eye.

“Farmers markets are so far away but when I see one, I flag it down and go there. They’re so good and cheap. It’s worth the trouble,” said the Berkeley resident.

Cook and Phat Beets is working on accepting EBT and WIC coupons within a month. Both are nutritional programs run by the federal government that help low income women and children .

Cook said she looked forward to expanding the hours. “I hope we can have it more days. We hope this becomes part of people’s lives.”


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