SDSU students improve access to healthy food with BrightSide Produce distribution

Jaime E. Love

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — We’ve heard it many times: If you want to feel well, you need to eat well. But often, sweet snacks and junk food are just easier to get.

So, some San Diego State University students have made it their mission to make affordable fruits and vegetables available on campus, and in underserved communities.

“Thank you so much,” says a student as he’s handed a bag of fresh fruit at the BrightSide Produce Stand located in the center of the San Diego State campus. Each sale is another mark of success for improving the diet of college students and the area communities.

Our dream — which we think is not that much of a dream but very achievable — is that everyone in San Diego can walk to their corner store and have access to fresh produce,” said Iana Castro, associate professor of marketing at SDSU and co-founder of BrightSide, which is run by students who earn interning credits for their work.

“We have two stands right here,” said Neal, a public health major in his senior year, as he points to what’s available, “this one’s more fruit. So, have like berries, apples, peaches, mangos.”

And next door to the produce stand is MOBI, a mobile demonstration kitchen, showing the savory potential of the fresh goods.

“Students can sample easy, healthy, recipes, utilizing the produce here,” said Tyler, a registered dietitian.

Students earn credits interning with BrightSide, and the program is known for attracting students from a broad spectrum of majors, like Olivia and Kelsie.

I’m a marketing major, so I’m in the business school,” Olivia said.

“And I’m in sustainability,” added Kelsie.

While BrightSide is about healthy food, Castro says it was born out of a retailing class project, to help a small National City grocer.

We went in as a group of business students, saying we’re retailing students,” said Castro. “They want to work on a project that has real-world implications — how can they help you improve the operations of the store?”

Turned out, the small business was having trouble stocking fresh produce.

“A lot of stores are so small that that really limits what they can get delivered to the store,” said Castro.

The problem is needing only a low volume, which comes with a higher, our of reach, price. So, Castro established the nonprofit BrightSide, utilizing grants and partnerships with growers to provide fresh, affordable produce to smaller grocers. Some two dozen are now benefiting and growing.

Castro said, “In National City, which is where we started, everyone has access to fresh produce within a half mile of their home – with most people having access within a quarter mile.”

For the students taking part in the program, it’s a rewarding experience.

“Honestly, I love helping people,” said Neal. “I want to graduate and go to nursing school so I can go into the nursing profession.”

It’s just an amazing experience,” said Castro, “to directly impact the community and to know that you’re doing something for the greater good.”

Along with direct sales, BrightSide offers students subscription packages of healthy fruits and vegetables. And whatever is not sold during the week, is given to a food bank on campus.

To learn more about BrightSide Produce in San Diego, visit https://brightside.sdsu.edu/.

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