Monday, July 17, 2006

The Fruitvale Farmers' Market:

The last time we were at the Fruitvale Village, we were asked to leave by the plaza security guards, so we weren’t sure what our welcome would be like. As it turns out, the market itself was held in the area right off of International Boulevard, a spot that appears to be more public than the heart of the plaza surrounding the fountain. Every market that we have visited so far has been a unique reflection of a specific community and this one was no exception. In addition to vendors offering wonderful fruits and veggies, there was a display of indigenous Mexican handcrafted items for sale a local real estate consultant presenting his services and an info booth about pest and insect control. With grants from national organizations such as the Project for Public Space and state funding, farmers’ markets are popping up in low-income communities afflicted by “food deserts: communities where access to fresh, locally-grown produce is extremely limited.” All of the produce was very affordably priced, and like the other markets we have visited in West and East Oakland, this one accepts WIC and is outfitted with EBT, an electronic way that folks can use their food stamps to pay for market produce.

People were immediately interested in our set up and came over to talk to us. We spent some time talking to four teenagers about East Oakland and Oakland in general; they weren’t so positive about the city, but maybe this was just their way of being cool. Laughing, they told us that “Oakland is a confused, dumb ass city.” Turns out that these guys are AmeriCorps members and one of their jobs is to manage the market. They told us that the market has been around for about four years. They were in charge a the community service booth, and unfortunately, the music. Much to the dismay of most of the markets’ attendees and vendors, they loudly played grating heavy metal music. Some of them live in East Oakland, but they definitely didn’t want to connect to the community. Some guys who were sitting and relaxing in the sun kept yelling at them to turn off the music. The AmeriCorps guys just turned their backs.

One man, who is a long time Fruitvale resident, told us that Fruitvale is actually in the center of Oakland and should be considered the divide between West and East Oakland. We spoke to the realtor who said that Fruitvale is “the heart of Oakland” and “the Spanish-speaking community feels very comfortable here; they feel safe walking around and living here.” And then, a few minutes later, we spoke with another guy who told us that “There are a lot of drugs around here and muggings for drug money. I don’t go out after 11PM. It’s really not safe here.” To see the rest of the surveys, click on the orange Flickr bar and use the tag: 'East Oakland Ride, 7.16.06'.

We noticed that Fruitvale, like many Oakland neighborhoods, has street flags. But what’s different about these flags, instead of only proclaiming the neighborhood’s name, the flags boast local heroes. Near the Fruitvale Plaza, there was a flag of Anabella Martinez, a very ambitious president of the Unity Council.


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