Oakland organization uses campus land to grow crops, feed families

mug composite of ab and Delency Parham
Thai Hill, Jame-Lee B/Courtesy
From left to right: Delency Parham, ab banks

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Sitting at the corner of Virginia Street and Oxford Street on Northside is a half-acre of land that can change the country.

That is how Delency Parham describes the small plot of land that he and ab banks plan to use for growing crops to feed families in West Oakland.

“Like all of our programs, this farming program is an endeavor to take power away from the agricultural industry and put it into the hands of the community,” Parham said.

Parham and ab (who prefers to go by their lowercase first name) are central committee members of People’s Programs, an Oakland-based organization that gives aid and support to the local Black community. Their services are varied: Abbas Muntaqim, a co-chair of People’s Programs, said People’s Programs helps run bail support services, volunteer health clinics and food distribution services in West Oakland’s Black community.

According to ab and Parham, the land in Berkeley is being used to grow collards, lettuce, spinach and other crops that will be distributed biweekly to residents in Acorn, Lower Bottoms and Ghost Town.

ab said they first heard of the unused land from one of their colleagues. According to the colleague, half of this land was going unused, a fact that did not sit well with ab.

“In this climate where a lot of people are starving, for land to go unused is a crime against those who are hungry,” ab said.

Recruiting the assistance of campus’s Fannie Lou Hamer Black Resource Center, People’s Programs received permission from the College of Natural Resources to use a half-acre of land to grow produce.

Muntaqim is also the co-founder and former assistant director of the Fannie Lou Hamer Black Resource Center. He said that the center opened in 2017 as a result of a list of demands that Black UC Berkeley students published in the wake of the killing of Michael Brown in 2014.

“There was no space on campus for Black students.” said Muntaqim. “Just a tiny office where only five or six people fit in.”

According to Muntaqim, the center provides the campus’s Black community a space to study, host events and find assistance.

ab, also a campus alum, said they were introduced to the importance of food sovereignty while volunteering in New Orleans to help Hurricane Katrina victims.

Despite the hurricane having struck New Orleans years before, ab emphasized that the local community was still struggling with food insecurity. Seeking a more permanent solution to this problem, ab returned to the Bay Area with a desire to change how underprivileged communities access their groceries.

ab said their goal is to bring food sovereignty to West Oakland by not only growing these crops for families, but teaching them to grow and distribute some themselves.

According to ab, People’s Programs is focusing on neighborhoods in West Oakland, noting their alleged lack of access to clean, good-quality food. Despite this lack of food access, ab rejects the term “food deserts.”

“ ‘Food desert’ is a buzzword that I avoid because it doesn’t really shine a light on who’s responsible for not having food,” ab said. “The term ‘food sovereignty’ illustrates how even if there were a grocery store, it wouldn’t be local.”

Contact Lance Roberts at [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @lance_roberts.