The process of storytelling is a truly extraordinary experience. Sharing past knowledge through spoken word has been a tradition that has existed in human culture for centuries. We tell stories of the past to our children and peers to preserve the legacy how we saw and experienced the world — and in some unique cases-how we tried to make it a better place.
The day that Lucia (my boss) and I interviewed longtime-resident Barbara Fenech in San Francisco’s Portola District was perhaps the most enriching experience during my internship with The Greenhouse Project San Francisco. Just a few weeks ago we had been searching for Barbara at the grand opening of the Portola’s Grocery Outlet, where free tacos were given out with proof of purchase of something from inside the store. It was curious to observe a pair of elderly Chinese women eating tacos, unsure of how to tackle them but still trying their best anyways. People from around the neighborhood actually knew each other; it was such a stark difference from my own neighborhood in San Jose, where I’m used to seeing new people every day.
This past semester I was fortunate enough to work with the Basic Needs Team at Cal that strives to bring awareness to the issues of food insecurity, housing insecurity, and financial aid across all UC campuses. My specific work was dedicated to food and housing insecurity and was split up with across two organizations: The Food Pantry and the Curriculum & Programming Team. Throughout the semester my knowledge of these topics expanded and I had the opportunity to practice spreading awareness and volunteering for the cause.
Prior to working with Acta Non Verba, my understanding of the food system was shaped by classroom knowledge, reading, others’ experiences, and my own observations in the communities I consider my own. Capturing food systems through reading is a very difficult challenge and divider when it comes to experiencing real life situations. You can explain what it means to love, but until you have felt it yourself, you are stuck with this definition of what love means in someone else’s eyes. What shapes us as beings is unique to what we experience. Just like our image of love is my image of the food system. I was told on several accounts what the food system looks like, the definitions and facts I was taught were all I knew. And as true as they were, it all sunk in when I was able to put words to a picture during my time at Acta Non Verba. “Acta Non Verba: Youth Urban Farm Project (ANV) elevates life in the inner city by challenging oppressive dynamics and environments through urban farming.” Located in the City of Oakland’s Tassafaranga Park, the quarter acre grows more than plants, and I was fortunate to witness the selflessness that sprouts from ANV and opens up a world of fresh grown food and interactive gardening for the children in the inner city. Children shape the food system because they are the future generation, and that is why we must emphasize what is available for them to fuel their bodies.
You can simply stop participating in a system that abuses animals or poisons the water or squanders jet fuel flying asparagus around the world. You can vote with your fork, in other words, and you can do it three times a day.
– Michael Pollan
This ideal of consumerism that Michael Pollan espouses in his New York Times article “Voting with Your Fork” and in pretty much all of his writings, is probably not new to most people reading this blog post. It is the basis of the current mainstream food movement. The burden is placed on individuals to change their purchasing habits or else they are voting for exploitation and pollution three times a day. These ideas have manifested in the popularity of the organic, cage-free, humane, local, etc. labels that crowd supermarket shelves, and the success of restaurants like Chez Panisse.
Starting from the bottom up is difficult for anything, but it’s especially difficult when there is no obvious trajectory. You have to make your own path as you attempt to follow the footsteps of others, trying to learn from others’ mistakes and instead learning from your own. Unfamiliar territory plagued my whole journey of creating a proposal for the garden, and although I began apprehensively, I pushed forward confidently in the end.
At the very beginning of this semester, I decided to take on a project I knew nothing about. I thought it would help me get some experience in the workings of local government. The project was to create a proposal for a new community garden in North Berkeley, a collaboration with UC Berkeley via Professor Altieri and the City of Berkeley via the office of councilmember – and now mayor elect – Jesse Arreguin. My job was to assess the need and want for a garden in the community. I originally thought I would just do a simple survey of the community and maybe a public forum for community discussion. I didn’t realize how much research would actually go into it, such as surveying, comparing grocery stores, evaluating income disparities, interviewing other community gardens, and more.
I have spent the past semester working with HOPE Collaborative, “a community collaborative working to support community-driven, environmental changes which will reduce health inequities within the most vulnerable communities of the Oakland flatlands.” I worked most closely with HOPE’s Healthy Corner Store Project (HCSP), which works with local corner stores to increase the availability of healthy and affordable foods in parts of Oakland where there is limited access to grocery stores. Currently, there are two stores in the program, One Stop at International Blvd. and 84th Ave. and Three Amigos at Foothill Blvd. and 13th Ave. However, the project had a third store until September and is currently seeking additional corner stores to partner with. HOPE helps storeowners with financing, job training, community outreach, and renovations. For example, we had a workday at Three Amigos to help clean, reorganize, and set up a new deli so the store can serve sandwiches and other fresh prepared foods.