Thursday, October 14, 2010

People’s Grocery: Support the Health and Wealth of West Oakland

West Oakland Needs Grocery Stores that:

1. provide jobs and ownership opportunities for the community
2. create wealth in the community instead of pulling wealth out of the community
3. provide healthy, organic, local produce
4. provide items that nourish our bodies and minds; and
5. create quality economic opportunity for residents.

This is the stand that People’s Grocery has always taken, and as the food system in West Oakland develops, we will continue to take this stand.

On October 5th, the Oakland City Council voted to adopt an amendment to the West Oakland Redevelopment Plan that allows the Redevelopment Agency to acquire property through eminent domain (in the Clawson/McClymonds/Bunche Subarea). Kroger (owner of the grocery chain Foods Co.) can now work with the Redevelopment Agency to acquire property in West Oakland for a warehouse food store. This situation brings to light the multitude of needs and desires experienced in the community and the challenge in choosing an outcome that works for everyone.

People’s Grocery has advocated for solutions to food access challenges in West Oakland since our founding in 2003. We’ve run mobile markets, food education programs, and a subsidized produce box program that all brought (and bring) healthy food to West Oakland. We collaborate with health and economic development organizations, gather residents for food celebrations, and work to raise the consciousness about structural racism and the role it has played and continues to play in creating and maintaining food deserts. We grow food, maintain urban gardens, and pursue effective systems change.

At the Council meeting, to build the case for a grocery store, there was a presentation on the health inequities in the West Oakland community (in short: you’re likely to die more quickly and live a life of lower health quality just because you were born and live in West Oakland, versus several other parts of the East Bay). The Redevelopment Agency offered a petition that over 900 West Oakland residents signed asking for a grocery store. Forty-three people signed up to testify on the issue. Activists, commerce associations and residents spoke about the prematurity of this decision, the need for more information and deeper analysis, and the benefits of a distributed food system. Residents and additional organizations spoke about the desperate need for a full-service grocery store.

We believe a grocery store has a vital role to play in the health of the community.

Though no longer officially connected to People’s Grocery, Co-Founder Brahm Ahmadi is developing a grocery store, People’s Community Market. Another market, Mandela Foods Cooperative, is currently operating in West Oakland. These are stores we both believe in and support, worker-owned co-ops with relationships with local farmers and a commitment to social justice. Oakland-grown grocery stores that commit to decent wages, benefits and worker-ownership would be vital for West Oakland. We want those stores to be a part of a health and economic system that helps West Oakland thrive.

We are collecting responses to a survey about community needs that can be found on our website at We’ll share the survey results, share updates about other community response to this issue, and look forward to hearing responses.

Friday, August 27, 2010

This week, Judith Bell of PolicyLink wrote about the California Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI), also known as AB 2720, which the CA Assembly is voting on shortly.

Reading the bill analysis, AB 2720 appears to model itself after Pennsylvania's Fresh Food Financing Initiative (FFFI). "Pennsylvania appropriated $30 million over three years to the program; The Reinvestment Fund (TRF), an investment company, has leveraged the investment to create a $120 million fund for financing the FFFI. As of December 2009, FFFI has helped finance 83 supermarket projects in 34 Pennsylvania counties, ranging in size from 900 to 69,000 square feet. In total, these projects are expected to create or retain 5,000 jobs and more than 1.6 million square feet of food retail." The Reinvestment Fund even offers stores technical assistance and financing to support energy efficiency and conservation measures -- here green jobs and the food system merge quite beautifully.

The declarations put forth in the analysis of the bill are in line with a food justice analysis of food system challenges. They speak about "the importance of protecting our productive farmlands for future generations", "acknowledging that access to healthy food items is a basic human right", and that "opportunities for increasing the number of [food activities] in underserved communities should be actively pursued". The bill offers a surprising number of references to food access, and to the ethics associated with food as a human right.

This is progress. This is the kind of leadership we need to see amongst policymakers (thank you, Assembly Speaker John A. PĂ©rez for introducing the bill). This bill will would funnel millions of dollars to the communities most in need, and encourages collaboration between the public and private sectors so everyone has ownership of the food system.

Granted, everything has a shadow side. Although the bill mentions the need to finance small business, and Bell's article speaks of local hiring, there's always the potential for big box grocery stores to enter low-income communities and remove vital dollars from the local economy into the hand of outsider conglomerates. Having a job and a paycheck is one thing: having ownership is another.

Knowing this, we have a job to do. The bill has not yet passed—we must ensure that it does, and be engaged in this process. Organizations like People’s Grocery advocate for solutions like this, and we must be prepared to step forward and have a voice. All food justice advocates must be prepared to step forward and have a voice.

Can you read the bill and tell us what you think?

Monday, August 02, 2010

Food Justice Now

I entered the food justice movement two years ago at the Kellogg Foundation’s Food and Society conference, as a bright-eyed convert from the green jobs movement. I learned my bearings in bits and spurts along the way, with help from a thriving community that willingly accepted me and now calls me one of its own.

I’ve met dozens of food justice activists across the United States, from Ithaca, NY to Los Angeles, CA. The common thread between us lies within our desire to see every child, elder, mother and father eating food that truly nourishes. We are warriors of the body and spirit, working in a field that connects the earth to our bodies in the most basic of ways. We acknowledge the significance of cultural heritage in our relationship to food, and the ancient recipes connecting kitchens across the centuries. We stand in solidarity with those most bruised by the food system, prioritizing their needs. In this moment, food justice is preserving the soul behind the way community eats.

Now, Food Access Is All The Rage

When Michele Obama planted her White House garden in early 2009, it changed the stage for food justice in America. Before, we did not have a mainstream presence. The Food Network was one of the only windows into discussions about food, and access to food was rarely (if ever) mentioned. Now, the Associated Press has a story every day from the “food deserts” of America, Jamie Oliver has a Food Revolution, and Will Allen is a household name.

This increased attention on food access is a great boon to the food justice movement. Food access is a core concern of food justice. Everyone should have the ability to find fresh, healthy food in his or her community.

The First Lady has breathed new life into the struggle for equal access to food. The food justice movement now has millions of new supporters—a grand opportunity to transform the food system.

Food Justice As A Movement

The food justice movement has a new task: build a relationship with our new supporters.

We must have a message for the mother who recently read the article on food access in an airport magazine, or the Rotary Club that saw a commercial for the “Let’s Move” campaign. We must show ourselves as a unified force that has a plan for the food system.

And we do have a plan—in addition to food access, we also want help preserve the food traditions of historically disenfranchised communities. This would entail a radical shift of circumstances for low-income communities. It would mean access to culturally appropriate foods, and a conversation with the USDA Dietary Guidelines; it would mean access to well-paying green jobs that allow mothers time and money to cook meals with their families; it would mean economic redevelopment for neighborhoods lacking startup capital for cultural food entrepreneurs.

If the food justice movement takes a new, stronger stand for cultural food practices, we can create the reality we have been working toward for so long. We can economically, socially, and spiritually revitalize communities through good food.