Jo Ann James beamed when a Sam Houston High School senior and teacher rolled up to her Eastside townhouse on bicycles Saturday and handed her a bag of organic fruit and vegetables.
She used to grow food, she said, but hasn’t been able to lately—kids in her housing complex mess with the plants, and besides, she has hip and knee problems.
“I love fruit and vegetables,” she said. “We do spinach, lots of fruits, strawberries, anything that’s in season.”
Because the 61-year-old lives within blocks of the high school, she was chosen to be part of a pilot project for Sam Serving Cycles in which students deliver fresh produce to Meals on Wheels recipients.
It’s part of a multi-pronged effort at the school to increase access to healthy foods, especially after students discovered the school is in a “food desert,” which means a significant number of residents in a low-income area live more than one mile from a supermarket.
For Saturday’s test run of the bicycle-delivery project, geography teacher Rick Trevino bought the food at a grocery store, and he and students rode cruiser bicycles donated by Earn-A-Bike Co-op. While bike infrastructure could be better – a bicycle lane near the school on busy Houston Street would help – all five deliveries happened without a hitch. At one point, Trevino and his students, outfitted in orange safety vests, deliberated whether to ride in the street or on a narrow, weedy sidewalk. Just then, a pack of about 10 road cyclists came past. That made the decision easy: Teacher and student fell in behind the group to cross W.W. White Road and get to their last deliveries, which were all within two miles of the school.
Saturday also was the second outing of the San Antonio Food Bank’s monthly farmers market in the school parking lot—another innovation driven by students and faculty. By mid-day, more than 100 people had passed through, while threatened rain never materialized. Wares included vegetables grown by students in the school’s community garden, at bargain prices. Artichokes and bunches of swiss chard sold for $1 each. Other vendors hawked fresh eggs from hens and guinea fowl, preserves and kimchi, and of course, seasonal vegetables, with SNAP cards accepted. A vinaigrette-making demonstration, artisan booths and a food truck rounded out the event.
“Our campus has a real vision for this project,” Trevino said. “We don’t want something that will disappear after six months.”
Already, teachers in multiple disciplines are connecting these activities with the classroom. Audio and visual technology students are designing farmers market advertisements for print and radio, in collaboration with students from Trevino’s geography class. Math students will learn the concept of volume using bicycle baskets. Culinary students cook up community garden vegetables and at times serve them to classmates. Engineering teacher Diana Godines wants her students to calculate how best to carry a load on a bicycle.
To be sure, challenges remain. It is unclear how continued grocery deliveries will be funded, for instance. Trevino is applying for a grant. And three students peddling the community garden food admitted they wouldn’t eat any of it. Artichokes in particular seemed to intimidate them. A City Year worker nearby explained that all seeds are donated, so the donations determine what is planted. Senior John Jackson, who later made two of the bicycle deliveries, posited that “old folks” eat healthily because they have to, but he and his peers prefer “meat and candy, because we can.”
Our society is learning to think about health in terms of environment, education and literacy, culture, access to healthy foods, a safe environment in which to exercise, and other factors beyond the 15 minutes one might spend at the doctor’s office, what academics call “social determinants of health.” The Sam Houston market and Sam Serving Cycles exemplify the best of public health by being community-driven, ground-up approaches. The market already looks like it will be a success. But changing palates like those of the three teens — that, apparently, will take a lot more work.
Sam Serving Cycles and the Sam Houston Farmers Market happen the third Saturday of every month, 10 a.m.-2 p.m., at 4635 E. Houston St.
*Featured/top image: Members of the Sam Houston Garden Club sell food from the school’s community garden. Photo by Junda Woo.