Gardening is radical work, with deep, disobedient roots like those of a solitary rye grass plant punching down through stiff shale to fan out in a grassroots network five miles long. Gardening is political work, connecting people and plants and stirring up new life out of uncommon ground. And gardens belong to all beings who love and depend on them, from blind moles to the frontline gardeners at City Slicker Farm, in West Oakland, who grow Ruby Crescent potatoes in old tires, stacked high above toxic ground.
These were some of my thoughts as I ventured out of the well-watered gardens at Zen Center with our eight farm and garden apprentices to visit new paradise plots east of Eden in the Oakland industrial flatland. We spent the morning working at Martin Luther King High School, in north Berkeley, with about seventy middle school kids in their huge, nonprofit garden and kitchen before moving on to the People’s Grocery about eight miles away, whose mobile market offers food to a steady stream of hungry customers in the heart of the inner city. These grassroots projects, and hundreds more like them all over the country, are part of a national citizens’ coalition working for food security, which provides access to affordable, culturally acceptable, and nutritious food, available year-round through local, nonemergency sources.
Close to 70 percent of West Oakland’s thirty-two thousand residents live below the poverty line in neighborhoods punctuated by thirty-six liquor stores and a single supermarket. Founded in 2001, the People’s Grocery took root in this lean soil, sown and nourished by three young citizens of the community who were committed to grassroots change. Their mobile market is made from a converted postal truck retrofitted and painted bright orange and purple. Running on biodiesel fuel with a solar-powered “phat sound system” that plays loud hip-hop music, it tools through town three days a week, parking for an hour or so at a time on populated street corners so that local citizens can shop for food and healthy snacks.