Mission and History
The mission of City Slicker Farms is to empower West Oakland community members to meet the immediate and basic need for healthy organic food for themselves and their families by creating high-yield urban farms and backyard gardens.
Our programs are an immediate solution to West Oakland’s lack of real choice for fresh, affordable, healthy food. Our programs also have a long-term sustainable impact, changing underutilized urban landscapes into ones that provide healthy, affordable food and improve the environment for generations to come.
City Slicker Farms organizes low-income communities to achieve equal access to fresh, healthy, organic food through the following programs:
All our work relies upon education, empowerment, and building solidarity. We know that the skills, knowledge, and ability to do this work exist among the people we serve. Our programs start by investing in individuals through education and training. Then we provide them with the essential tools, resources, and ongoing support to become food self-sufficient. In the process we restore our neighborhoods through environmental stewardship and community greening.
When City Slicker Farms was founded, there was nowhere in West Oakland to buy fresh, healthy food. The community’s health and well-being was suffering tremendously because of an absence of nutritious food coupled with pollution, poverty, and a lack of contact with nature. In 2001 a group of West Oakland community members decided they would help by growing healthy food right in their own neighborhood. There were plenty of vacant lots in the area and nowhere to buy fresh produce, so growing food in unused spaces was a natural fit. One of the neighbors, Willow Rosenthal, donated the use of a plot of land for the first City Slicker Farms garden on Center Street. The founding farmers were intent on maximizing food production at the Center Street Farm, so they formed committees, such as the “compost committee” and the “chicken committee” to make sure the work was done properly. City Slicker Farms was entirely a volunteer effort at first, and whatever produce wasn’t taken home by the farmers was put out for anyone to take for free. Most people, though, didn’t want to take it for free. They wanted to honor the labor of the farmers and honor their own ability to contribute, and so began the weekly Center Street Farm Stand. Willow Rosenthal became the organization’s first Director, and the founding farmers became an advisory board.
The City Slicker Farms concept had immediate appeal to the West Oakland community because it built on a rich history of farming in African American and Latino families. People appreciated its practicality, too. They could use empty spaces in their neighborhood to grow food that was desperately needed in a neighborhood with a very high poverty rate, and liquor store on nearly every block but no grocery stores. For many people, City Slicker Farms awakened an almost-forgotten knowledge of food production. Many community residents could remember a family member who had grown their own food and how good that homegrown food tasted. Soon people were seeing potential gardens all over the neighborhood, including in their own backyards.
Today City Slicker Farms consists of three Community Market Farms (spaces open to the public), over 300 Backyard Gardens, a weekly Farm Stand, a greenhouse, and Urban Farming Education programs. City Slicker Farms also has a Policy Advocacy Initiative, using its experience to promote sustainable food systems and a green economy on a regional and statewide basis. Together these activities preserve and reimagine green space in the inner-city for food production, engage residents in environmental education, and serve as a model for urban green growth.