By Jessy Gill, CFJC Intern
From the start of our planning for the Community Food Security Coalition Conference, the local host committee held the intent that this conference would be focused on the community and city hosting the conference, not just the individuals who had the great fortune to travel to the host location. Our desire for community involvement arose mainly from the idea that the information being shared within this National Food Justice Conference should not be elitist, nor should it be restricted from those who face the most injustices within the food sector. For this reason, we organized and promoted free community events running concurrently to the conference. Another reason CFJC wished to involve the community of Oakland in this conference was the wide ranging pre-established commitment to both food sovereignty and food justice found here in the Bay Area.
Food Justice’s roots are traceable back to the Black Panther Party’s free breakfasts to children and community members; giving the black community the human rights they needed which were not being given to them by the US government. The food justice movement originated here in Oakland, and hasn’t left since. From community and farm to school gardens, to businesses who are conscious of the health and justice issues embedded in our food system, Oakland is still working toward supplying the community with food filled with knowledge. Knowledge of those who worked to produce your food, where it came from, what’s in it, and what to do with it.
I was tasked with sourcing most of the food donations for the conference. Reaching out to food conscious organizations in the Oakland, Berkeley, San Francisco communities and beyond was a task much greater than I was expecting. I contacted over 100 local businesses for food donations, and the list of possible donors continued long past those I was able to reach out to. Something to keep in mind as I describe what seems to be an ample supply of food, is the factor of accessibility. Oakland may have hundreds of health food stores, and “green” focused businesses, but map the locations of each of these stores and lay it alongside a map of the poorest areas in the city, or the areas with the greatest percentage of heart disease, and you see where the gaps in our wonderfully progressive city lie. Not to mention the monetary cost of eating completely organic is difficult for even a middle class individual to afford.
Of course I did not receive donations from the majority of these businesses, but the number of responses to my food donation request surprised me. I fully expected well over half of the businesses would not be able to donate, but I did not expect to receive such kind responses of support for our event, and regret they were unable to contribute. Many businesses apologized for the state of their finances, and urged me to get in touch with them for future events in hopes they would be in a position to donate. A particular communication I was surprised about was my ongoing correspondence with an individual from Marin Sun Farms. I inquired several times about different products they would be able to donate, or offer at a discount and every time I sent out an email with inquiries I fully expected not to receive a response. But without fail, every time Marin Sun Farms offered what they were able in full support of the movement.
I wanted to share this, not to encourage you to venture out and call companies across the bay to ask for food donations, but to share the whole picture. There are many different ways to combat the issue of food justice, some so small the individuals involved may not even see themselves as a part of the movement. But it is important for these individuals to achieve recognition, from themselves and from others. So I am taking this moment to thank all of the small business owners who have held on through this never ending economic decline. You are a part of this movement. You have sought to become knowledgeable about the food issues, and are actively supporting the small-scale just food systems already in place by giving us the consumer the opportunity to support these systems as well.
After contacting these businesses, I have caught a glimpse of the power of our city-wide community. These business owners know we need to work together in every way possible if we want to make a transformation. Not all were able to financially support us in our efforts, but all were in support. And with the help of the consumer, in picking local businesses to share your wealth, the wealth may then be passed through these channels to aid in community development and continued education.
Please visit our list of donors and support these generous businesses, and know there are dozens more in support of our community initiatives, but they need your support first.