City Slicker Farms

Community-Based Urban Farm Collective

City Slicker Farms (CSF) was created to ameliorate problems such as food scarcity and poverty in West Oakland. To address these issues, CSF was established as “a nonprofit urban farming organization” [1] that creates “high-yield urban farms and backyard gardens [in] . . . low-income communities [to help residents] . . . achieve equal access to fresh, healthy, organic food.” [2] CSF was created in 2001 when a group of residents in West Oakland began growing fresh produce in the vacant lots in their neighborhoods. Willow Rosenthal, CSF’s first director, “donated the use of a plot of land for the first City Slicker Farms garden on Center Street.” [3] From its outset, CSF was organized by volunteers. Leftover produce was often given to people in the neighborhood for free. As the farm grew, the staff “began the weekly Center Street Farm Stand” to share produce with the surrounding community. [4] The founders felt that the City Slicker Farms project is effective in West Oakland “because it . . . [builds] on a rich history of farming in African American and Latino families.” [5]

In addition to City Slicker Farms’ weekly farm stand, CSF has partnered with the Ralph Bunche School Nursery from whom CSF obtains its seedlings. Many of these seedlings are then planted in one of CSF’s three urban farms: the Herb Farm (3434 Haven St.), Secret Garden (5105 Genoa St.), and Fitzgerald and Union Plaza Parks (corner of 34th and Peralta St.). The Fitzgerald and Union Plaza Parks, which is one of CSF’s largest farms, has a particularly unique history. In 2006, City of Oakland Councilmember Nancy Nadel suggested that CSF should redesign the Fitzgerald and Union Plaza Parks. Although “many monetary pledges were made for the park, . . . none came through due to the economic decline.” [6] As such, members of CSF wrote several grants to obtain funding. In 2010, CSFs was given a grant of 4 million dollars as a result of California Proposition 84, which is “a California bond initiative approved in 2006 [that] reserves 5.4 billion dollars in bonds for projects involving water quality and access, park improvements, and natural resource and park preservation.” [7] CSF used the Prop 84 grant to buy a plot in West Oakland, spanning 1.4 acres, at 28th and Peralta Street. The urban farm that was built on this plot was designed by the Oakland community as CSF conducted communitywide surveys to gain input from residents of varying ages and ethnicities. The Fitzgerald and Union Plaza Parks has now been primarily finished, and the public can visit, walk around, and sample organic fruits and vegetables every Thursday and Saturday (from 10am-5pm).

CSF not only has urban farms, but it also has an outreach program. In 2001, CSF developed an urban farming education program. This program offers three-month-long internships. (No previous experience is necessary.) Young people from West Oakland can even obtain stipends. CSF also has a summer program, called City Slicker Farms’ Youth Crew, that teaches young people about agriculture and sustainability while giving them farming skills and job experience. CSF also offers farm tours, service learning, and community-based workshops for individuals of any age.

Also, CSF is committed to encouraging members of the community to create their own gardens. In 2005, members established a backyard garden program that teaches low-income individuals how to garden. After testing the individual’s soil, CSF staff work with the person to develop a plan for his/her backyard. Then they construct a garden in a mere four hours. For many, the process of creating their own garden might seem daunting. Anticipating this concern, CSF gives individuals a mentor for two years who provides support, advice, and gardening materials like seeds, plants, and compost. After participants have gardened for a couple of years, they are encouraged to volunteer and share their knowledge with new members.

By employing a mixture of outreach programs, gardening projects, and urban farms, City Slicker Farms’ promotes conservation, exhorts sustainable practices, and encourages the public to make healthy choices.

Cite this Page:

Zenzele Olatunji, “City Slicker Farms ,” Street Stories: Oakland, accessed December 14, 2017, http://streetstoriesoakland.com/items/show/41.
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