Growing Through Tragedy

Crime and violence are an everyday occurrence in many Oakland neighborhoods, but in 2009, in an effort to heal after a tragedy, a small idea developed into a nonprofit organization that creates opportunities in low-income neighborhoods. Haleh Zandi and Gavin Raders co-founded Planting Justice after they were asked to create a community garden at the Keller Apartments on 53rd and Telegraph Avenue. “’There’d been a murder there a few years before and they wanted to create a symbolic, safe space,’” Raders stated. The idea developed into weekly workshops on culinary arts, nutrition, and urban agriculture and a few plant beds expanded into 225 gardens and 1,200 supporters by 2013. Planting Justice’s operating budget is primarily self-generated, unlike many urban farms, who rely heavily on grants and larger foundations. The founders also worked at San Quentin prison and Santa Rita Jail with Insight Garden Program, using landscaping and gardening to improve the lives of incarcerated individuals. "’Mass incarceration rips people out of their land and from their communities and doesn't do anything to repair those relationships once they come home,’ said Raders. ‘That is such a flagrant example of what happens when people and place and story and land have been disconnected. It's where we are starting as a political act, but also because those folks are the leaders that we need in order to transform our society.’” Another aspect of the program is to educate students at Skyline, Oakland Tech, Fremont, and McClymonds high schools. Raders believes that land and food can be used to fight for people’s rights. Planting Justice works with the school system to create food justice and permaculture courses. The success of the organization can be seen through their employees, two of which are students and four ex-convicts that they had met through their educational programs.

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Augusta Hohn, “Growing Through Tragedy ,” Street Stories: Oakland, accessed October 16, 2018,

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