Oakland organization uses campus land to grow crops and feed families
At the corner of Virginia Street and Oxford Street on Northside is a half-acre piece of land that can change the country.
That’s how Delency Parham describes the small plot of land he and ab banks plan to use to grow crops to feed West Oakland families.
“Like all of our programs, this agriculture program is an attempt to take power out of the agriculture industry and put it in the hands of the community,” Parham said.
Parham and ab (who prefers to use their first names in lowercase) are central committee members of People’s Programs, an Oakland-based organization that provides aid and support to the local black community. Their services are varied: Abbas Muntaqim, co-chair of People’s Programs, said People’s Programs helps run bail support services, volunteer health clinics and food distribution services in the black community of West Oakland .
According to ab and Parham, Berkeley land is being used to grow cabbage, lettuce, spinach and other crops that will be distributed every two weeks to residents of Acorn, Lower Bottoms and Ghost Town.
ab said he first heard about the wasteland from one of their colleagues. According to the colleague, half of this land was unused, a fact that ab did not like.
“In this climate where many people are starving, leaving land unused is a crime against the hungry,” Ab said.
Recruiting help from the campus’ Fannie Lou Hamer Black Resource Center, grassroots programs received permission from the College of Natural Resources to use a half-acre of land to grow produce.
Muntaqim is also the co-founder and former deputy director of the Fannie Lou Hamer Black Resource Center. He said the center opened in 2017 following a list of demands black students at UC Berkeley released following the 2014 murder of Michael Brown.
“There was no place on campus for black students.” said Muntakim. “Just a small office where only five or six people fit.”
According to Muntaqim, the center offers the black community on campus a space to study, organize events and find help.
Ab, also a campus alum, said he was introduced to the importance of food sovereignty while volunteering in New Orleans to help victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Although the hurricane hit New Orleans years before, Ab said the local community still struggled with food insecurity. Seeking a more permanent solution to this problem, ab returned to the Bay Area with a desire to change the way disadvantaged communities access their groceries.
ab said their goal is to bring food sovereignty to West Oakland by not just growing these crops for families, but teaching them how to grow and distribute them themselves.
According to ab, People’s Programs focuses on neighborhoods in West Oakland, noting their alleged lack of access to clean, good-quality food. Despite this lack of access to food, ab rejects the term “food deserts”.
“‘Food desert’ is a buzzword that I avoid because it doesn’t really shed light on who is responsible for not having food,” ab said. “The term ‘food sovereignty’ illustrates how even if there was a grocery store, it wouldn’t be local.”
Contact Lance Roberts at [email protected]and follow him on Twitter at @lance_roberts.