When it comes to increasing access to healthy food in underserved communities by creating viable, local food systems, involving local residents is crucial. Yes, building a grocery store in a community that lacks one is a good first step. But chances are that grocery store will be owned by a large corporation, and money spent there will not be returned to the community. Nor is a corporate grocery store likely to prioritize hiring local residents.
For a local food system to truly benefit its community, it must be operated largely by local residents who care about the economic health of their community, as well. A just food system not only provides groceries to underserved communities – it also bypasses the exploitative, corporate food system.
People’s Grocery, a food justice non-profit in Oakland, CA, works to address this issue. The organizations sponsors a program called the Growing Justice Institute, which trains local residents who are passionate about food justice to become leaders in the community and promote access to fresh, healthy food in West Oakland.
Growing Justice Institute participants build catering businesses, restaurants, community resource centers, and much more. People’s Grocery helps them locate sources of funding and connects them to organizations and individuals who have the resources they need to make their dreams a reality.
“[People’s Grocery] helped me write a grant – they helped me learn another language. It helped me with speaking skills and presenting myself,” said Community Liaison Shalina Allen. Shalina plans to open a catering business that prepares healthy dishes acceptable for those with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. She also plans to incorporate nutrition education into her business model.
GJI Participants, called Community Liaisons, meet regularly to exchange ideas about community organizing, economic opportunities, food justice and racial justice. By working with West Oakland residents to build a network of food justice activists, the Growing Justice Institute strives to promote local food systems reform that is community driven. We believe that our food system should be determined by the needs and desires of the community, not by external forces.