PROJECTS: The Farms of West Oakland
Fifty years ago, the Black Panther Party formed in Oakland, California. Perhaps their most well known and successful social justice effort was the free breakfast program for school children. As member Melvin Dickson put it, “one thing you can guarantee in an oppressed community, is that you're going to find hunger.” The central headquarters of the Black Panther Party was in West Oakland, a part of the city that became predominantly African-American following the Second Great Migration.
Today, about a third of West Oakland residents live in poverty and with food insecurity. It’s a place where most residents get their food from McDonald’s, the 99-cent store, or one of the many corner liquor stores. Due to a lack of nutritious food, low-income areas like this one face overwhelming rates of heart disease, obesity, diabetes. In an effort to fill this need, new groups have formed to help combat the neighborhood’s food desert—a term to describe an area where most residents live below the poverty line and a mile or more away from a supermarket.
The result of these efforts is a diverse range of urban agriculture. One program, West Oakland Woods (WOW) Farms, formed to help fill an employment need while taking advantage of the changing area’s restaurant boom. WOW operates both a produce and a flower farm that supplies high end restaurants while training and employing local high school students in need.