California Educator

January / February 2017

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The Central Valley 's bountiful fields and orchards are ripe for the picking, and no one knows that better than students in Tulare, who regularly spend their weekends harvesting thousands of pounds of excess produce for their local food bank. One of those students is Jonathan Velas- quez, a senior at Mission Oak High School and son of a farmworker. "It feels good knowing I'm helping people out," he says. "My dad picked fruit, and he used to say he would never want me to do it. Now that I am doing it, I see how hard it is." Velasquez has given up numerous Satur- days to gather produce from local orchards, backyard gardens and fields as part of his school's Harvesting Hope project. e proj- ect has become so popular, it has expanded from Mission Oak to high schools, middle schools and elementary schools through- out the Tulare area. Along the way, students have not only become more aware of pov- erty and hunger in their county, they are doing something substantial to make a difference. "After a harvest, I always feel proud of myself," says Madisen Krohn, a sophomore at Tulare Western High School. "I feel good that fresh food is going to a family." Although the Central Valley has been called the "salad bowl" of the nation, many of its own residents are not able to afford the fresh produce that is exported to other states. Depending on which study you look at, food insecurity affects from 29 to 37 per- cent of the households in the county, while Students Pitch In for Hunger Harvesting Hope project brings Tulare County's bounty to those who need it By Dina Martin Photos by Scott Buschman Mission Oak High School students Wendy Lopez and Jonathan Velasquez. High school educators Leonard Houser, left, and Dave Terrel are active with Harvesting Hope. the poverty rate is over 20 percent. That food insecurity has resulted in a dramatic increase in obesity rates and diabetes, since food insecure families are forced to rely on cheaper diets of processed carbohydrates. After the death of several relatives to di ab et es, Pi xl ey native S arah R amirez undertook to obtain advanced degrees in public health epidemiology and public health policy and history to help her com- munity. Together, she and her husband Dave Terrel, then a math teacher at Tulare Union High School, formed Be Healthy Tulare, a grassroots effort to create a healthier qual- ity of life in the county. rough Be Healthy Tulare, the two launched a gleaning and har ve st proje ct in 2012 to c ol l e ct and redistribute unpicked fruit. Terrel began enlisting students from his Algebra II class and the football team to join community volunteers in the weekend project. " We realized this was a public service on both sides," Terrel says. "Many elderly people could no longer pick their fruit or eat it because it interfered with their medications. On the other end, we 37 January / February 2017

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