By Howard Dyckoff
Food surrounds us in our daily lives. We share food at family and community events. But where do we get our food and how fresh is that food?
Deep East Oakland is a fresh food desert. There are very few large grocery stores South of High Street and fewer farmer’s markets to buy food direct from the farm.
Liquor stores dot the landscape and many carry some so-called fresh food, although the fruits and veggies are often wilted or worse.
More and more research shows the amazing health benefits of the phytochemicals in fresh fruit and veggies and getting the bulk of of one’s calories from fresh fruit and veggies reduces the occurrence of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and even cancer. But, in Deep East, fresh food is hard to find.
Now, many young Oaklanders are getting involved in community gardens and there are more of these projects every year. The ultra-fresh food grown in these projects feeds local families and low-income individuals. It brings people together in our communities. It also helps educate school-age children about what food really is, how to grow it, and how to be more self-sufficient.
Two of the more visible community gardens are recent projects near the Tassaforanga housing complex and the on-going gardening and nutrition workshops at the East Oakland Boxing Association (EOBA). There is also a project starting to grow veggies on the roof of the Life Long clinic (at 106th Avenue) for their patients, but that is just starting up.
EOBA’s Garden and Nutrition Program
At EOBA, the gardening program is on-going, in spite of the wintery weather. They sprout many of the veggies indoors and these plant starters are for sale to anyone beginning their own garden. They also offer garden and nutrition workshops every other month in the EOBA classroom.
“Our garden program helps the East Oakland Community on many levels,” explained Sarah Chavez, EOBA’s director. “In the garden, daily opportunities exist to reinforce the science, math, and language curriculum from their elementary schools, as well as basic socializing skills. Over the last year, the garden served several struggling preteens. ”
“Our garden provides a quiet space for them re-focus their energies and spend time with older peer mentors who are dedicated to being positive role models. Our youth also take their lessons in urban gardening home to their families. Many parents have given positive feedback regarding their kids’ interest in gardening at home as well as general increase in helpfulness.”
The garden at Tassafaronga occupies a quarter acre at the corner of 83rd Ave and E Street. The program is run by a group called Acta Non Verb (ANV), which is a Latin expression meaning “actions not words.”
The project there focuses on youth of all ages, with kids planting, mulching, watering and harvesting real food. The program invites children and parents to come by late afternoons on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Currently, about 20 families are involved.
When the garden is producing, the veggies go to the youth that work on ANV garden as well as sold at their farm fresh food stand.
“We have started our monthly ‘Family Dinners,'” said Kelly Carlisle, ANV’s Founder and Executive Director, “that blend our work day (The first Saturday of each month) with the opportunity for community members to come together and eat together. Our first one was January 6th and it was amazing!”
Back in October, the Tassafaronga Garden helped host a Food Day celebration with food samples, cooking demos, tabling from groups like the Oakland Parks Coalition, and family-friendly entertainment. There were educational and informational displays and even a GMO car. Mayor Jean Quan came to this Deep East location and was pleased with the demo food.
“Food Day was great and we had representatives from all sectors: non-profit, private, home-based business, homesteaders, and artists,” said Carlisle.
This year, ANV and California Food and Justice Coalition (CFJC) will be teaming up to make Sunday, October 21 the next Food Day extravaganza at their mini farm in East Oakland, Noon to 4pm at Tassafaronga Park & Recreation Center. Be there and see the future of food in East Oakland!