Food workers in West Oakland
“Let us make the current system redundant!” suggests Kirstie Stramler of Permaculture.tv. Ms. Stramler facilitated a workshop that I attended during the US Social Forum, entitled “Collaborating Organizations on Pathways to Sustainable Self-Governance.” The panel consisted of a few West Oakland residents who are working to better their community’s health and livelihood by improving the formation, availability, and understanding of food. Real food.
“The food crisis is that the food available in our cities is killing us,” begins Gavin Raders of Planting Justice, an income-generating non-profit whose guiding principles are focused around Food Justice, Economic Justice, and Enviornmental Justice. Through Raders extensive training in permaculture, Planting Justice is able to offer guidance to community members on how to develop, nourish, and sustain otherwise underused or vacant plots of land into productive organic gardens, or “urban food forests.” Planting Justice is concerned with making permaculture relevant, accessible, and affordable for low-income urban residents, by way of free community work parties and low-cost educational workshops at schools, San Quentin State Prison, and various yards throughout the Bay Area. For every three paying clients, they can offer one free garden to a low-income family in the East Bay. “The problem is the solution,” claims Raders who along with Planting Justice co-founder Haleh Zandi are volunteers with Mandela Market place in garden and youth education development.
Quinton Sankofa is Programs Coordinator for Mandela Market Place, a 501-c-3, which operates as a small business and community leadership incubator for low-income residents and minority farmers with the goal of strengthening community health, identity and integrity. Some of MMP’s projects are Mandela Foods Cooperative, HNSA (Healthy Neighborhood Store Alliance), and Family Farmers. MMP has created a produce distribution center– consisting of a buyer, transportation, warehouse, and cold-storage unit– to help distribute the produce of under-resourced farmers in Bakersfield, Dinuba, Fresno, Watsonville, Salinas, Gilroy, Livingston, and Modesto.
Mandela Foods Cooperative is a locally-owned grocery store with nutrition center in West Oakland. The co-op opened its doors in June 2009 with six worker-owners from the community. It offers produce from small farms based within a 170 mile radius of Oakland, farms that otherwise are not able to sell through mainstream retail. For West Oaklands approximately 25,000 residents there are roughly 48 corner stores and one liquor store for every 300 residents. When the co-op opened, Sankofa said that some of the residents had a hard time believing this grocery store was for them. In April 2010, Mandela MarketPlace began supplying two corner/liquor stores with fresh produce, and has sold 2,500 pounds to date. Meanwhile, the co-op brought 50,000 pounds of fresh produce to the community in its first year.