East Oakland Residents Speak Up About Their Food and Farm Concerns

2 September 2011

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By Lotta Chan, CFJC Research Associate

On Wednesday evening, CFJC, HOPE Collaborative, and the Oakland Food Policy Council hosted their second Oakland workshop on the Farm Bill, at Tassafaronga Recreation Center in East Oakland. As with the first one we held last week, this workshop strived to clarify some of the complex language of the 2008 Farm Bill and relate it to our daily lives. But beyond the Farm Bill, the session was designed to engage residents in discussion surrounding food access, quality, and nutrition, and bring people together to create solutions and positive changes in our food system.

Virginia (HOPE Collaborative) and Kelly (Acta Non Verba) started off the workshop by leading a round of introductions for the 30+ participants and discussed the context and importance of the workshop.

The East Oakland workshop followed the same format as last week’s West Oakland one, with Sabrina (HOPE Collaborative) and me (CFJC) facilitating a discussion on the history and current structure of the Farm Bill. We asked the participants to “play Congress” and allocate Farm Bill funding as they saw fit, they showed their support for such titles (i.e. categories of programs) as Research (especially on sustainable agriculture), Nutrition, Horticulture and Organic Agriculture, Livestock, and Credit. Some even created their own titles, such as “Community and School Gardens” (i.e. Urban Agriculture) and “Cultural and Regional Agriculture”. They were surprised to find out later that roughly 78% of Farm Bill funding goes to Nutrition. Their first guess was Commodities (i.e. subsidies), followed by Nutrition, Research, and Commodity Futures.

Kelly then steered the discussion to ways in which the Farm Bill can impact our health and the health of our communities. When Kelly asked if they knew anyone with diabetes or heart problems, nearly everyone in the room raised their hand. When she asked what made it so hard to eat healthy, people responded that price, availability, time, presentation, transportation, and culture (what you and your society are used to eating) are some of the key factors inhibiting their attempts to eat right. After that, I then steered the group into an overview of the environmental impacts of modern agricultural systems. During this section, people voiced their concerns about intensive monoculture (and its subsequent problems with vulnerability and over-use of pesticides and fertilizers), genetically modified crops and their contamination with non-GM crops, and loss of ecosystem services (e.g. air purification, pest control, and prevention of soil erosion) due to tearing out natural buffers and farming “fencerow to fencerow”.

After gaining a deeper understanding of how the Farm Bill is structured, how it impacts our health and environment, and the process by which it is renewed every 5 years, the attendees were then given time to express what changes they would like to see in their community and country with regards to food and farming. Two top priorities that sprung from this discussion included greater support for urban agriculture (through training, changes in zoning, or financial support) and increased community education and programming around healthy foods and how to cook them, keeping in mind price and time constraints. Other priorities included:
• Support for sustainable and/or organic vegetable production through increased research or funding
• Shifting subsidies from commodity crops to fruits and vegetables
• Support for SNAP, WIC, and health foods to schools
• Increase in the number and spread of farmers’ markets through, e.g. incentives
• Expansion of SNAP benefits at farmers’ markets
• Limiting food waste through programming
• Support small-scale slaughter houses through loans or funding
• Stop overproduction

We then asked what they as a group, community, or individual could do to affect these changes, and they responded with ideas such as community petitions, protests, sit-ins, and increased education and awareness to start a grassroots movement. It seemed as if education was both a means and an end, and attendees wished to see education, outreach, and training expand within communities as well as schools ranging from elementary to university-level.

These two issues—education and urban agriculture—resonated as priorities throughout both workshops in Oakland. If you couldn’t make either Oakland session, we still want to hear from you: What are your priorities for the Farm Bill? What changes do you want to see in our food system? What are your concerns with the Farm Bill, food quality, or food access?

CFJC will co-host with local groups more of these Farm Bill workshops/listening sessions throughout the state. If you would be interested in co-hosting one in the future, please contact us.

If you would like more information on this or future workshops, or to voice your concerns surrounding our food system, contact Lotta Chan at lchan@cafoodjustice.org.

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CFJC promotes the basic human right to healthy food while advancing social, agricultural, environmental and economic justice. Through advocacy, organizing and education, we collaborate with community-based efforts to create a sustainable food supply. We envision a food system in which all activities, from farm to table, are equitable, healthful, regenerative and community-driven.

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