More and more research shows the amazing health benefits of phytochemicals found in fresh fruit and vegetables. Studies show that getting the bulk of one's calories from fresh fruits and veggies reduces the occurrence of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and even cancer.
But, in Deep East Oakland, fresh food is hard to find.
Now, many young Oaklanders are getting involved in community gardens, and there are more of these projects every year. The ultra-fresh food grown in these projects feeds local families and low-income individuals.
It brings people together in our communities. It also helps educate school-age children about what food really is, how to grow it and how to be more self-sufficient.
Two of the more visible community gardens are recent projects near the Tassafaranga housing complex and the ongoing gardening and nutrition workshops at the East Oakland Boxing Association. Another project is growing veggies on the roof of the Life Long clinic (at 106th Avenue) for their patients, but that is just starting up.
At the boxing association, the gardening program is ongoing, despite the wintry weather. They sprout many of the veggies indoors, and these plant starters are for sale to anyone beginning their own garden. They also offer garden and nutrition workshops every other month in the boxing association's classroom.
"Our garden program helps the East Oakland community on many levels," explained Sarah Chavez, the boxing association's director. "In the garden, daily opportunities exist to reinforce the science, math and language curriculum from their elementary schools, as well as basic socializing skills. Over the last year, the garden served several struggling preteens.
"Our garden provides a quiet space for them to refocus their energies and spend time with older peer mentors who are dedicated to being positive role models. Our youth also take their lessons in urban gardening home to their families. Many parents have given positive feedback regarding their kids' interest in gardening at home as well as general increase in helpfulness," said Chavez.
The garden at Tassafaronga occupies a quarter-acre at the corner of 83rd Avenue and E Street. The program is run by a group called Acta Non Verb (ANV), which is a Latin expression meaning "actions not words."
The project there focuses on youths of all ages, with kids planting, mulching, watering and harvesting real food. The program invites children and parents to come by late afternoons on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. About 20 families are involved. When the garden is producing, the veggies go to the youths who work on the garden and to their farm fresh food stand, where it is sold.
"We have started our monthly Family Dinners," said Kelly Carlisle, ANV's founder and executive director, "that blend our workday (the first Saturday of each month) with the opportunity for community members to come together and eat together. Our first one was January 6th, and it was amazing"
Oakland Voices correspondent Howard Dyckoff has lived in the city for more than 30 years.