Food On A Mission: Bay Area Ag Orgs Uplifting People of Color

The Sound blog usually looks East from our California headquarters, focusing on the industry in the Midwest and beyond. This week, however, we are taking a look in our own backyard for Black History Month, shining a light on some of the fantastic agricultural organizations that are uplifting people of color in our neighborhood.

If you were asked to describe what a farmer looks like, what would come to mind? The growers at Brown Girl Farms, City Slicker Farms and Florence Fang Farms most likely would not fit the traditional mold. They aim to navigate and challenge these molds by uplifting their surrounding black community. This black History Month, we are moving our focus to the community around our headquarters in the San Francisco Bay Area and shining a light of the people of color farming this land with their communities at heart. Let’s meet these dynamic Bay Area community led growers!

Photos curtesy of Brown Girl Farms.

Oakland, CA: City Slicker Farms

In the heart of West Oakland, CA, City Slicker Farms was set in motion in 2001 for the greater responsibility of providing members of the West Oakland community with fresh, healthy and sustainable food. City Slicker Farms has accomplished this and more by up-keeping high yielding urban farms and backyard gardens, resulting in national recognition as leaders in supporting low-income communities of color. Although they are headquartered in Oakland, their widespread mission is to reach communities throughout the Bay Area to increase wellness and build community through equitable access to healthy food, thriving gardens and urban green space. With persistence, passion and determination, they have built over 400 gardens, produced 300,000 pounds of produce and have trained thousands of community members in organic gardening methods and environmental stewardship. 

Programs and Projects

City Slicker Farms’ efforts are divided into 4 major avenues: Backyard Gardens, West Oakland Farm Park, Farm to Fridge Food Sharing and Skill Sharing. 

Backyard Gardens, a program that took off in 2008 has continued their mission’s success to help build raised garden beds, provide gardening materials and supplies to enable members of the community to grow their own food. In an effort to support their success, membership directly supports their cause — in turn, one will receive direct mentorship and a lifetime supply of compost, seeds and starts for 2 years!

West Oakland Farm Park, their powerhouse urban farm consisting of a 1.4 acre working farm land, is a multifunctional area alongside an educational space and outdoor recreation site. This area was created by and for the 3,000 community members in surrounding neighborhoods to be the epicenter of community pride and activity for West Oakland residents. This safe space allows members of the community to connect by growing, preparing and sharing food, promoting environmental sustainability, and reclaiming ecological integrity of the land, all to help members in lower income situations have access to healthy foods. 

City Slicker Farms has also joined forces with Farm to Fridge Food Sharing, a network of refrigerators across Oakland that provide food to ANYONE who may need it. Their combined efforts impact members with little to no access to aid. In the wake of COVID-19, many mutual projects and efforts have joined together to increase their ability to reach as many members as possible across the Oakland area. They have provided thousands of pounds of food each year to unhoused, low- and fixed-income, and BIPOC members. 

Another program, Food & Farming Skill sharing, is meant to provide community members with all the tools and resources necessary to set them up for success. With workshops in place they also host other organizations, leaders and teachers to share knowledge about sustainable farming and culinary skills. City Slicker Farms honors and celebrates diversity within the realm of different skills, abilities and knowledge — and they strive to ensure this program reflects this.

How to get Involved

City Slicker Farms offers many ways for the community to support their food justice mission. In the wake of COVID-19, their network of community fridges has expanded. As a volunteer you can play a major role in meeting current food demands. Along with weeding and planting, volunteers also have the enriching opportunity to complete a food justice orientation! If you choose to get involved and support by way of a donation, you can help City Slicker Farms fulfill a 2022 goal of designing and building a children’s garden and increasing community events by 25%. Be sure to check out their community events such as First Saturdays at the Farm” to see how you can celebrate and explore the farm and surrounding local businesses.

Hayward, CA: Brown Girl Farms

Brown Girl Farms is a vibrant and growing farm nestled in the Hayward Hills. Founded by Ashlee Johnson-Geisse, Brown Girl Farms’ mission is to Spread Loving Intention through Food and Flowers” by cultivating unique flower bouquets and seasonal crops. Ashlee saw the urgent need for fresh foods within the community and founded Brown Girl farms as a response. The grower’s of Brown Girl Farms specialize in African Indigenous Agroecology practices to cultivate African American Heritage crops. Crops such as leafy greens and yams have an integral role in the rich tradition in households of the Sub-Saharan African diaspora. From the Farm Fellowship Program to their collaborations with other Bay Area grower initiatives, Brown Girls Farm serves to uplift people and the land.

Programs and Projects

Johnson-Giess and growers take pride in their Farming Values” by exploring and instilling Indigenous African agroecology practices. The farm strives to maintain an abundance of soil microbial life and biodiversity. The awareness of detrimental effects of extensive soil disruption led them to adopt low-till alternatives. Polyculture and intercropping, another Brown Girl Farms Farm Value”, involves planting multiple crops in the same general area, an alternative to uniform rows of a single crop. In practice, polyculture aims to facilitate beneficial interactions between plants, such as nitrogen fixation, ground cover and much more. 

Brown Girl Farms also recently partnered with Happy Organics, a California based family-run farm, to manage a farm beehive and provide education to the local black community.

How to get Involved

Brown Girl Farms has many ways for the community to get involved. A direct donation to BGF assists in providing fresh seasonal produce to the black and brown community through their application based Community Supported Agriculture produce box program. In these boxes you can find kale, radishes, tomatoes, basil, green onion, and collard greens (just to name a few!) all grown by the farm’s Fellowship Program. 

If you find yourself in the Rockridge Oakland neighborhood you can join Brown Girls Farms at Planterday nursery for their Mobile Grocery Pop Up! These pop-up’s feature seasonal produce, flower bouquets, beeswax candles and more.

San Francisco, CA: Florence Fang Community Farm

Florence Fang Community Farm is composed of motivated volunteers passionate about serving communities of color in a neighborhood that is amongst the most underserved in San Francisco. Their mighty one-acre farm is the last operating acreage within the city, however their passion and tenacity does not go unnoticed as they have become the largest community farm and second most productive urban farm in the city. Florence Fang (the chairwoman)- born in China, educated in Taiwan and adopted by the United States, has been involved in many successful public service roles: National U.S. Small Business Commission, CA Commission on the Status of Women and the San Francisco Film Commission. Fang resonates with farm’s mission to: improve food security, increase healthy living habits, practice natural farming techniques, improve the environment, support neighborhood economic opportunity, and increase social connectedness within and between communities of color. 

Programs and Projects

Florence Fang Community Farm was initially focused on serving Asian immigrant communities in San Francisco, yet their successes have been groundbreaking, leading them to expand their focus to wider inter­gen­er­a­tional and ethnic diversity that represents the minority groups in the local community. They are proud to state that their farm is a “…living and breathing showcase of how gardening design, farming techniques, and biodiversity can be shared and celebrated across cultures and differences, primarily those that reflect our residents and participants.”

The farm has created an effort to spotlight awareness for the African American community within San Francisco by creating Bayview Black Organic Farmers Program. Their ultimate objective is to help heal the black community’s relationship with food and land by creating a sustainable food system, educating and empowering. The program has provided local farmers with plots and garden tools to grow their own organic crops, and has provided produce to stock food pantries and supply farm-to-table restaurants in the Bayview area. While increasing food security and sovereignty in a neighborhood that lacks nutritious food, Bayview Black Organic Farmers Program strives to share vital knowledge of the importance of farming, sustainability and physical activity.

How to get Involved

With COVID-19 causing a major national impact on many small businesses and non-profit organizations, it is very impactful to donate directly to the cause. However, there are also in-person opportunities for those interested. Contributions support the purchase organic soil, tools, seeds, land other supplies for farmers.

If you decide to volunteer, be ready to weed, plant, dig and grow at the farm! You’ll likely break a sweat and most definitely get your hands dirty. If you feel your experiences and skills could advance the farm team, they always encourage you to ask, especially for general administration, marketing and light construction. If you’re compelled to learn even more about the amazing projects going on at Florence Fang Community Farm or urban farming in general, visit here to view more short videos.