For my community engagement project for the Food Systems Minor Capstone, I was a Marketing Intern for Back to the Roots (BTTR), a small company based in Oakland, CA that makes organic indoor gardening kits and is on a mission to reconnect people back to the food they eat through making it easy to grow themselves. Although the company is small, they have national distribution at some of the largest retailers including Target, The Home Depot, Whole Foods, and Amazon.
PANNA stands for Pesticide Action Network of North America. PANNA is part of an international organization working towards a sustainable future without hazardous pesticides. I was first drawn to PANNA because of the work they do around farmworker’s health and pesticides and schools. Their mission statement “Reclaiming the future of food and farming” attracted me to the organization because they are working with the community to achieve this future, while also serving those involved in the food system, not just focusing on “fixing” the problems within the system.
Community-engaged land-use planning at Smyth-Fernwald
I work as a student manager at the Clark Kerr Garden. This space is unique because it intersects many lives: from seniors in affordable-housing apartments, campus faculty, and preschoolers, to first-year college students and dining hall staff. This fall I decided to continue a project focused on a single tract of land next to Clark Kerr. In contrast to the space where I have been pruning trees, planting starts, and saving seed for the past three years, Smyth-Fernwald is a rather underutilized sloping plot with bordering oaks and an abandoned building. But the history of the land is fascinating. Just 4 years ago, there were faculty and their families living here, along with a daycare center and a small community garden. And in the early 1900s there were large gardens and an orchard. Before that, cattle grazed the open grassland. Even before that, the Chochenyo Ohlone inhabited the East Bay and likely utilized Derby Creek which runs along the northern border. In this same space that is now dusty and usually empty, we know there can be something productive and beneficial to the people, and restorative for the entire ecosystem.
For those who don’t already know what I did for my project, here’s the deal: in September I got the Berkeley Food Institute (BFI) newsletter that had a list of cool opportunities for students or graduates. I saw that Berkeley Unified School District (BUSD) was taking applications for interns in the garden or nutrition departments, and I decided to apply. In high school I did my senior project (a highly involved and rigorous research paper and thorough presentation) on garden and nutrition education in elementary schools in America, so I was psyched to have this opportunity to engage directly with the topics I’d previously only researched! I applied on the spot and was accepted by Ellen at Longfellow Middle School as a garden intern.
ReGrained is a brilliant food waste company striving to reconfigure the way we use food and its byproducts. The idea came from a problem encountered while the cofounders, Dan Kurzrock and Jordan Schwartz, were still under aged college students at UCLA. They were not impressed by the beer at parties and were too young to buy craft beer so they decided to brew their own. Once the brewing process was complete, they were not only left with their delicious beer but a bunch of spent grains as well.
The leftover brewer’s malt can either be used as compost or sent to farms for animal feed in a more rural setting. As it turns out, this byproduct is more than just a grain that should be fed to cattle. The beer brewing process removes the sugar from the grain and leaves behind a grain rich in protein and fiber. When weighing out the grain, 35% of it can be attributed to fiber and 20% to protein. Combined with a few other ingredients, it makes for the perfect granola bar.
The room buzzed with fervent whispers, the inviting scent of fresh arepas wafting as attendees bustled through our Sweet & Salty night market – the lights dimmed as our first storyteller stepped on stage, graciously inviting us into their world. Sharing the challenges and triumphs of their personal journey in the foodspace, each storyteller brought a different flavor to the evening, creating a feast of stories for us all to indulge in. The level of transparency, honesty, and vulnerability displayed fostered intimacy within a group of strangers — a transient experience with a depth of influence, these connections were what so many long for amidst the anonymity of modern society.
We often think of chocolate as a symbol of love, indulgence, and celebration rather than one of suffering and destruction. There’s a huge gap between how most big name chocolate companies market their products to us and the circumstances of cacao production on the ground. I would venture to say that the vast majority of chocolate consumers in the world have no idea how their chocolate is made, let alone how its primary ingredients—cacao and sugar—are grown. Similarly, many cacao farmers never get to experience the final product into which the fruits of their labor are destined to be transformed.
On one of the last days of my internship, I was reloading the Freshest Cargo mobile farmers market truck to end the day when a woman came up to the back on the truck and asked for just one more bunch of kale. I walked back into the truck to pull out a bunch of kale from the built-in fridge, and when I returned, she was chatting with another woman, who then also asked me for a bunch of kale. Slightly annoyed this time, I went back again and brought out some more kale. Without much thought I continued packing up the boxes of greens and crates of oranges. The women were still standing there chatting, and I quickly realized that they were trading recipes on how to best cook with kale. That moment, though small, felt like the perfect culmination of the entire semesters worth of work– two people meeting and trading knowledge over food, forming a connection and learning from each other’s’ experiences.
After spending the better part of my four years at Cal learning about environmental politics and food systems, I was excited to put my knowledge to use at a nonprofit working to create and sustain community gardens in Los Angeles (LA). The LA Community Garden Council (LACGC) is a very small nonprofit run by a handful of paid employees with support from a wider network of local board members with ties to various organizations such as the LA Food Policy Council. I worked with Julie, the executive director, Diana, the executive assistant, Al, the outreach director, and my fellow intern, Arissa. LACGC manages forty community gardens in LA and consults with more than 125 community gardens in the LA county. Many of the gardens they manage started out as abandoned concrete lots. With the help of LACGC, local residents worked to convert these plots into gardens where communities of diverse backgrounds come together under the LA sunshine to bond over their mutual love of gardening and grow nutritious and accessible food. During my internship, I learned about individual community gardens and the things that make them unique, but I also learned about the struggles these gardens will encounter in the face of the proposed LADWP water rate hike.
Over the course of three years at the Berkeley Student Collective, from storefront all the way to director, I’ve witness its growth and change in structure, operation, and membership. Initially, I wanted to investigate questions like what do customers look for in store, how does our product selection reflect that, and is there a discrepancy between who we think we’re serving and who we are actually serving? However, I quickly realized that there is no usable data that I could build my research on. Thus, my project changed from investigating the interaction between our customers and products to identifying who are the people who frequent BSFC.
The Food Pantry is relatively new to the university and there are still many that do not know about it. I personally did not know about it until my second semester of my third year even though it was located in the basement of my workplace, which I have been working for almost a year. The Food Pantry is a collection of humble efforts and altruistic and kind students who volunteer their own time and efforts to help others.
The Food Pantry also provides food at no cost for students who are food insecure. Once I got involved with the Food Pantry, I was given a project to lead and at the beginning, I was extremely cautious and overwhelmed by the amount of pressure. Yet, what I learned was that if you have the inspiration and the effort, just jump right in and everything will work out fine and beautifully.
If someone told you that they could solve the problems of the world, would you believe them? In many ways, this is the question I tried, and am still trying to answer this semester during my internship at MESA.
MESA, or the Multinational Exchange for Sustainable Agriculture, is an organization that seeks to change the current food system by putting people over profit, leading the way through Earth Stewardship, equitable economies, and multicultural alliances worldwide. After twenty years in existence, MESA was interested in learning not just what the organization was doing, but also and more importantly, if and how their work impacted the lives of farmers and communities.
It is with great sadness and the inexplicable feeling of losing a limb (in a way), that I write this farewell blog post about the Food Collective. The Food Collective, my home for three years, my first venture into campus life, the first time I was given real responsibility for a legitimate business, the first time I met people who cared about the environmental and social consequences of our food system, all are coming to an end. However, it is with great excitement, that I make my next move in the world of food with all of the knowledge I have acquired in the hallowed (and sticker-coated walls) of the Food Collective.
I started this minor at the beginning of my transfer to Cal. I knew I wanted to work making changes in the food system but wasn’t quite sure in what capacity. My passion was ignited in wanting to help people have access to fresh, healthy food, especially those who are marginalized and often face food insecurity and diet related illnesses disproportionately to others. I studied the food system from many angles–public policy, sociology, and agro-ecological farming practices and each class made the same point over and over: our current food system is broken and it does not serve everyone equally, and yet I wanted to know how do we fix it?
Real Food Media uses powerful storytelling and media to inspire, educate, and grow the movement for sustainable food and farming. My draw to Real Food Media began when I attended their film contest screening at Berkeley last year. After watching a series of short films that promoted a sustainable food system, which ranged from topics of urban gardens to fair trade, I felt so inspired to go out and make an impact on our food system. I began an internship with Real Food Media last summer, and was able to pick the internship back up again this semester through the Community Engagement Project.
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.
Our mission is to ‘Undo’ the food. We want to reconnect families and especially their kids back to where the food comes from.
–Back To The Roots Family
Summer 2016 is going to be one of the most special and memorable summer in my life. Partially because I had my first full-time internship, but mostly because I got a chance to do things that I have been really passion about.
Right after my last final, I started my product development internship at Back to the Roots (BTTR). As many of you may have heard of, BTTR is a food startup with “undoing” food as their mission. They truly believe that the simplest food is the healthiest one for our body and transparency is one of the main feature that makes BTTR unique and standout.
With the opening retreat at the Student Organic Garden Association on May 23rd, 2016, my summer community project has only gotten better. As a continuation of my previous internship at Project Open Hand in Oakland, I’ve been able to dedicate more time to this non-profit organization and their new CHEFS (Changing Health through Food Support) study, beginning in August, 2016. Project Open Hand is dedicated to serving the Alameda Community with groceries and meal services. Our main clients have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS or breast cancer. (See below for a percentage breakdown of most common client illnesses). Our HIV funding comes from the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program and our breast cancer funding comes from Avon. The past couple of months has taken my position from basic clientele intake and grocery shopping to an all inclusive position to prepare for this upcoming study for the benefit of our community’s current and future health.
I was inspired to work with the farm at the Alameda Point Collaborative after I spoke with the manager of the farm about the APC’s mission and how work on the farm is making a difference in the community. The Alameda Point Collaborative is an organization which provides transitional housing and resources to formerly homeless individuals and families and the farm is one of the several sites for a job training program that is offered to residents. Participants in this job training program learn valuable job skills through their work on the farm. However, the program did not offer any sort of discussion of the broader societal structures that contribute to the inequities that often contribute to homelessness. This was particularly concerning to me as it was to the manager, but she explained that the program did not have the resources to add this element to the existing program. I was motivated to aid with the incorporation of this element and as the program was located on a farm, I was inspired to structure this element around the theme of food justice. With permission from farm administrators, I began reaching out to local organizations working in food justice to help create a food justice curriculum that could be worked into the job training program. This process has been lengthy and is still not yet complete but I have been successful in finding an organization that is willing to collaborate with me and we will likely have a product within the coming weeks!
Hope Collaborative works to support community-driven, environmental changes which will reduce health inequities within vulnerable areas in Oakland.
The project that I was most closely involved with during my time at Hope Collaborative is the Healthy Corner Store Project, which directly addresses the food system. This project supports the expansion and improvement of local small grocers in an effort to increase availability of nutritious, affordable food and improve the environment in Oakland. We connect the corner stores with financing, technical assistance and community support so that they can increase their provision of fresh and healthy food options. I am so excited that we have begun to pilot 3 store makeovers at The Three Amigos, Sunbeam and One Stop!
The Berkeley Student Food Collective (BSFC) is a student- and volunteer-run grocery store on Bancroft, across the street from Eshleman Hall. It’s been criticized for being so white that it excludes people of color. Since its mission claims it’s equitable and since it’s incorporated as an educational non-profit, by not providing education about its role in exclusion, it is failing its mission and perpetuating inequities. Grace Lihn, a UC Berkeley undergarduate, puts it best in her SERC blog post, An Open Letter to the Food Collective, “…[the BSFC’s] complacency and inaction reinforce existing privilege and oppression.” As a participant in the Food Systems minor and the corresponding community engagement class, my project was to use my privilege as the Anti-Oppression committee (AOcomm) coordinator for the BSFC to make the space inclusive; however, I’ve only begun to understand how.
Acta Non Verba: Youth Urban Farm Project, located in the midst of the East Oakland urban sprawl, works toward elevating life in the inner-city by challenging oppressive dynamics and environments through urban farming. Nestled in a .25 acre corner of Tassafaronga Park lives Acta’s certified-organic urban farm that is planned, planted and harvested by the neighboring youth in the area. Across the street from the farm is Acta’s office where members of the organization host cooking classes and provide an accessible food pantry for the residences of Tassafaronga Village Apartments.