After a hot several miles’ ride on Bancroft, we arrived at the farmers' market, situated in the Faith Deliverance Church parking lot. Though it was smaller than we had expected, only 4 vendors of fruits and veggies, it had a friendly atmosphere. Rosemary and Charles were sort of the market ‘greeters’, sitting at a table near the entrance of the lot. Like the Mandela Farmers' Market in West Oakland, this market is geared towards low-income folks. The market is ready to accept WIC and food stamps. On top of that, prices for the organic produce is about half of what you might pay at the Jack London or Berkeley Farmers' Markets.
Because we had some flyers to distribute about our upcoming group rides, Rosemary suggested we talk to the market manager, Wilma, to make sure it was ok that we left the materials. She was busy talking to other vendors, so we walked around the market and talked to the farmers. Most came from the Central Valley, so they really didn’t have much to say about West and East Oakland, except that they were “the city” or “the hood”. We some of the juiciest plums from a farmer outside of Fresno; he also participates in the Jack London Sunday farmers market. While this one doesn’t bring in as much business, he believes it is really important to have good, fresh, organic fruit and veggies available to folks in this area, which is surrounded by fast food restaurants.
We finally met up with Wilma, who was intrigued and excited about the project. We asked her the story behind this market. Her daughter started it a few years ago; both Wilma and she are members of the Faith Deliverance Church. She wanted to do something for her community; she wanted to both support local farmers and bring organics into her neighborhood. She got a grant from the state and the county to start the market. They collaborate with the 5 A Day program, a national effort to change people’s approach to nutrition. They also work with the UC COOP Extension which provides technical and education resources to local communities. They emphasize land-management, health and nutrition, and youth involvement with nature and gardens. Now that Wilma’s daughter is away at school to get her MSW, so Wilma is now running the market. They no longer have grants, so it is a labor of love.
Wilma’s colleague had some key words to describe West Oakland: “The way to go” and East Oakland, “On the rise”. They both think that these areas are really changing---people who had moved out are now returning, especially to West Oakland (she considers downtown to be West Oakland).
Everyone who shops at the market gets a 5 A Day prize: a t-shirt, a bag, an apron…we won an apron. Wilma’s colleague also plays a nutrition ‘wheel of fortune’ game with the kids. They spin the wheel, it lands on a vegetable or fruit, and they have to describe the nutritional value of the food. It’s all in good fun; Wilma works hard at making sure folks enjoy their visit to the market and that they return. She knows a lot of folks there by name. You get the feeling that it could be a real community magnet.