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Dig Deep Farms and Produce's, from left, Sam Faulkner and Tommie Wheeler speak at a dedication ceremony for the farm's new City View Farm in San Leandro, Calif., Thursday May 31, 2012. Created by the Alameda County Deputy Sheriffs' Activities League, Dig Deep will use the 8 acres of land in the San Leandro Hills to add to their existing farms and continue to provide local residents and restaurants with fresh produce. (Anda Chu/Staff)
CORRECTION (Published 6/7/2012)
An article in the Local section about Dig Deep Farms and Produce in San Leandro incorrectly reported the amount of money the nonprofit makes each month. It makes $6,500 per month.

An Alameda County nonprofit group is hoping freshly planted beans and apple trees will help local communities grow themselves out of blight.

"Among the things we are trying to do is to make fresh, healthy, affordable produce more accessible to folks who live in those communities, and to help them achieve better diets -- better life outcomes," said Sgt. Marty Neideffer, of the Alameda County Sheriff's Activities League, which created Dig Deep Farms and Produce.

The organization aims to distribute healthy food to the Ashland and Cherryland communities through urban farming. The low-income areas with high minority populations do not have access to many supermarkets, Neideffer said.

"Communities where that (fresh food) exists are far safer and have far less crime. All of those things we really think are intertwined," said Neideffer, who also wants to lower obesity and diabetes rates in those areas.

The jobs created by the program are another way to improve life in those high-crime areas, she said.

"We got to thinking that maybe urban agriculture could provide local people jobs, and from a crime standpoint, a job is gold," Neideffer said. "A job helps keep people from going to jail and from going back to jail. It just helps people in general."

Dig Deep has had success with its nine employees -- young adults who come from troubled backgrounds, including jail -- and with its original 1½-acre farm in the Cherryland area.

The organization celebrated its two-year anniversary Thursday with the addition of eight acres of farm land from Camp Sweeney, a residential camp near the Juvenile Justice Center in San Leandro.

"I through it was only going to be six months," said Tommie Wheeler, who was among the group's original hires. "But by the time it got to six months, we had customers and produce growing. We just kept going. Now it's almost 2½ years."

Wheeler admitted hesitation when learning that the program involved farming, instead of just gardening, as she was originally told, but her role has grown from farmer to customer service and communications manager.

"It affected my life by eating healthier and reaching out to kids to get them eating right," said Wheeler, who also is venturing into honey production using skills she has learned.

Neideffer is hopeful that the new addition will attract more workers and allow the farms to increase revenue.

With its three original farms -- one at the Alameda County Firehouse at 1432 164th Ave. in Ashland, another behind the Pacific Apparel store at East 14th Street and 163rd Avenue in Ashland, and a third at the Seventh Step Foundation at 475 Medford Ave. in Cherryland -- and 150 customers, the organization is making $65,000 a month. It is funded by state and federal grants.

"For a crime-prevention development project to make itself self-sustaining is really quite an accomplishment," Wheeler said. "We're not there yet, but we hope with this that we'll get there."