Students from all classes, given coupons worth $2, had the chance to buy at least two types of produce, including tangerines, peaches, apricots, carrots, broccoli and apples.
The fresh food was courtesy of Food 4 Thought, a company that takes food from 37 Central Valley farms to provide “tasty, healthy meals with nutritional emphasis” at schools in Northern California, according to its website.
Valerie McDonald, director of Tracy Unified School District’s food services, said Wednesday’s market was a hands-on way to make healthy living “fun.”
“What we’re trying to do is expose the students to fresh fruits and vegetables,” McDonald said.
The effort goes beyond the market exercise, McDonald said.
Beginning in the fall, all school meals will be accompanied by a half-cup of vegetables or fruit, McDonald said. She added that half the grains served in Tracy Unified cafeterias will be whole grains and that school meals are trans-fat free and designed to be low in fat.
“One of our goals is to be a solution to the problem of childhood obesity,” McDonald said. “The important thing is to get them eating healthy when they’re young, so it becomes a lifetime habit.”
Developing that discipline is also a goal of county health officials, who have cited obesity as a major local health issue.
According to San Joaquin County’s 2011 Community Health Status Report, 65 percent of adults in the county are overweight or obese, and more than 33 percent of children — as measured in fifth, seventh and ninth grades — are overweight or obese.
That compares with statewide rates of about 57 percent for adults and 31 percent for children.
The report also found that just 14 percent of the county’s adults exercise at least three times a week.
Stuart Rogoff, recently named executive director of the Tracy Hospital Foundation, said this week that obesity was a problem the local community shouldn’t overlook.
“I see where we do have that problem with my own eyes,” said Rogoff, who attended the hospital’s Children’s Health and Safety Fair on Saturday, May 12. “I hear it from other people, too.”
Wednesday’s farmers market fell on the same day a U.S. Department of Agriculture report concluded that healthy foods are cheaper than unhealthy items when judged by weight and portion size, as opposed to simply calories purchased per dollar.
“When measured on the basis of edible weight or average portion size, grains, vegetables, fruit and dairy foods are less expensive than most protein foods and foods high in saturated fat, added sugars, and/or sodium,” the report reads.
In other words, the carrots, cabbage and broccoli available at Kelly School on Wednesday were less expensive per portion than candy or potato chips, even if a bushel of fresh greens looks as if it costs more than a doughnut at the store.
Many of the fruits and vegetables available Wednesday proved as popular as their poor-nutrition counterparts. Students snapped up nectarines, carrots and apples, though they were less fond of the broccoli and cabbage.
Regardless of students’ individual choices at the market, McDonald said the important thing was to expand their perspective of what it means to eat healthfully.
“We have the ability to reach the students,” she said.
• Editor Jon Mendelson and Photo Editor Glenn Moore contributed to this story.