Rooted in Community
December 15, 2021
Luxury condos loom over the farm beds at City Slicker Farms (CSF), a nonprofit organization sitting on a 1.5-acre plot of occupied Ohlone Chochenyo land in Oakland, California. The organization was born out of necessity. West Oakland is historically a food desert and continues to be one, affecting the majority Black and low-income families living there.
CSF focuses on providing food to the surrounding community and beyond. Claire Meushke, Garden and Education Manager for CSF, leads some of the most important and vital programs that CSF offers, such as Garden Mentor Visits and the Backyard Garden Program (BGP). The BGP prioritizes “BIPOC community members who face economic barriers to growing their own food and connecting with green spaces,” Meuschke said.
“We try to center low-income and people of color here, feeding them but also making the space accessible and making sure they’re welcome,” said Meuschke. “A lot of unhoused folks like to come use the space…It’s a sanctuary for some. Then, we also have a lot of people who probably are the gentrifiers and they come into the space. So it’s kind of a complicated sanctuary,”
Across the Bay, a similar picture is painted in the Bayview-Hunters Point neighborhood of San Francisco.
Literacy for Environmental Justice (LEJ) is a diverse cohort of community members, community activists, environmental mentors and restoration specialists. Nina Omomo is the restoration coordinator there, overseeing the restoration and revitalization of different habitats around the city.
The LEJ nursery sits at the edge of the Bayview and is home to garden beds and testing stations that sustain the native plants the stewards cultivate there. Omomo and other LEJ employees, a small but mighty crew, are working to expand this nursery that is also home to a community garden.
Both of these organizations are rooted in community and history. They have chosen their positions because they want to do this work, not because they have to.
“I think it makes people feel good,” Omomo said. “I feel like if this is really what you want to do, you have to dedicate more than you probably would doing something else. And sometimes it takes a lot out of you…I’ve worked other jobs where I get paid more and, at the end of the day, that doesn’t really do it for me sometimes.”
The endeavor of educating a marginalized community on environmental justice, whether this comes in the form of native seed planting or providing fresh food, is necessary. In turn, these efforts and dedication provide and sustain sanctuary, a complicated one, but sanctuary nonetheless.