A small plot of land in one of Oakland’s poorest neighbourhoods has been turned into a life-saver for the people who work there. The urban farm staffed by 10 former inmates is bursting forth with corn, squash, kale and peppers, earning the newly trained farmhands nearly $20 an hour. West Oakland Farm was started by 72-year-old Elaine Brown, whose long history of advocating for self-determination, self-sufficiency, and empowerment for underserved people started in 1974 when she became chair of the Black Panthers.
The organic produce, currently being cultivated in 40 raised beds on the 3/4-of-an-acre plot, is already being served at Picán, a fine-dining restaurant in Oakland’s Uptown district. Oakland & the World Enterprises, Brown’s non-profit organization, leases the land from the city. Though it is located in a less affluent area of Oakland, the neighborhood is quickly gentrifying, and cafes, restaurants and small stores are starting to open even though West Oakland residents still don’t have a nearby grocery store.
With the farm project up and running, Brown can concentrate on her ambitious plans for expansion. Not only does she want to open that badly needed supermarket, but she also intends to build a tech design center, a juice bar, a fitness center, and an affordable housing complex. “I’m not in the farm business,” she told Civil Eats. “I’m in the business of creating opportunities for Black men and women who are poor and lack the education, skills, and resources to return to a community that is rapidly gentrifying without economic avenues for them in mind.”
Via Civil Eats