The Farms of West Oakland

This photo essay by photographer Preston Gannaway focuses on inner-city agriculture programs. Here’s what’s behind the essay, in her words:

Today, about a third of West Oakland residents live in poverty and with food insecurity. It’s a place where most people 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.

City Slicker Farms, which formed in 2001 and is one of the most established, recently built a 1.4-acre Farm Park complete with a sliding-scale farm stand and 28-plot community bed. Justin Vandenbroeck runs Fleet Farming Oakland, which constructs small farms in neighborhood yard spaces proclaiming, ‘grow food, not lawns!’ Working an economic angle as well as a dietary one, 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 with financial need.

But industrial urban areas like West Oakland must also contend with decades of pollutants. The farmers say the soil is too toxic and must be either hauled away or lined to accommodate organic soil beds built on top. Water, soil, and air are all problems in West Oakland, said Vandenbroeck.

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