west oakland is a prime example of how environmental racism can manifest. oakland was the end of the line for the transcontinental railroad, and the main receiving port for shipments coming across the Pacific. this meant that west oakland was a major site for longshoremen (at ports) and trucking work, hiring residents for blue-collar jobs. the infrastructure of freeways is truly impressive – subjecting the west oakland residents to toxic fumes etc.
these days, west oakland is still a working class, mostly non-white area. it is a “food desert” in the sense that there are no supermarkets or grocery stores in the area for residents, leaving mostly liquor and corner stores. but there’s been a long history of community organizing as well. one of today’s organizations focused on environmental racism and food justice issues is People’s Grocery. (look ’em up on Facebook! or at http://www.peoplesgrocery.org/)
People’s Grocery is a West Oakland-based organization working towards food justice with local residents. “Healthy food for everyone!” is one of their slogans. they run a number of urban farms, a grocery coop, and a weekly delivery of “grub boxes” – fresh produce that they’ve grown and some from local growers. their “grub box” system resembles a community supported agriculture structure with an important twist: instead of community members paying upwards of $400 at the beginning of the season like a regular CSA (this payment gets them access to a share of the harvest, picked up throughout the season), People’s Grocery structures it so that the farmers actually support the community. low-income folks rarely have the kind of up-front money that regular CSAs require so instead, People’s Grocery asks community members to pay as they go – $12 for west oakland residents who can then pick up veggies and fruits the next week. since people’s grocery focuses on west oakland and its residents, there is a distinction made for those wanting to get a grub box but who don’t live in west oakland: they can pay $24 per week and in effect sponsor multiple community members IN west oakland. i have a pretty great interview with Max, (THANK YOU MAX) who has been runnin the Cal Hotel urban garden for a year, but youtube isn’t liking it right now so i’ll try to post it soon! in it he talks about the organization and how urban farming fits into the larger frame of environmental racism etc.
at one of the sites, the California hotel, the space has become quite the incredible bio-intensive urban farm. in the past, the California hotel was one of very few in the oakland area that served politicians, artists, and professionals of color. a stunning list of people have stayed in that building. eventually it became a single room occupancy place where folks are staying long term in just one room. residents have been involved in every stage of the urban farm. people’s grocery is currently able to provide stipends to cal hotel residents who work there. Last summer when i worked at it there were several raised beds, a green house, and a lot of grass and weeds. we were working hard to put in new beds, clear a path, and generally clean up. NOW, its really quite different. they’ve got worms doing vermicomposting (black gold!!), a number of chickens, lasagna style gardening ON PAVEMENT, and way more area under cultivation. truly fucking beautiful.
this summer, regretfully, i was only able to spend a little time with PG. seriously considering a longer term commitment maybe next summer where i would be immersed in urban farming practices and collaborative, community efforts. this summer i was at the cal hotel while a mural was in progress (i’ll try to post an interview with the artists soon) and i’m still curious how it turned out. murals and gardens. beautiful ways to reclaim spaces for the sake of health, art, growth, and creativity. good luck to Marcelo Montalvo, an awesome guy workin on a masters on food justice issues! we worked together last summer and ran into eachother this summer at the US Social Forum. yay for movement building spaces!
since cities aren’t going anywhere, lets grow them and paint the town!!