The economic decline has much of America adjusting to fewer job opportunities and increased reliance on safety-net programs such as food stamps. In West Oakland, this has been a way of life for decades. West Oakland was once a vibrant railroad and shipbuilding center populated mostly by middle-class African American families. Since the 1950's the neighborhood has faced job losses from the demise of local business and industry. An average West Oakland household has three people and an income of only $21,124 per year. 32% of the 21,000 residents live below the poverty level. 24% of residents rely on food stamps and Medi-Cal. These institutions provide a vital safety net for families in poverty, but they don't provide a long-term solution nor address the root causes of the problem.
West Oakland also suffers from environmental racism, where polluting industries have priority over the health and vitality of residents, the majority of whom are people of color. The neighborhood is surrounded on all sides by freeways and has constant truck traffic from the Port of Oakland. The EPA gave the air quality a rating of 13 on a scale to 100, with higher numbers indicating better air quality. The rate of childhood hospitalization for asthma is 150% higher than the County's average. There are over 300 hazardous materials storage sites and a prevalence of severe toxins such as lead, cadmium and PCBs.
West Oaklanders also lack affordable healthy eating options due to a dearth of whole food suppliers. Low-quality foods, however, such as pre-packaged foods and meals from fast-food chains, are easy to come by. There are over 40 liquor stores in West Oakland that specialize in alcohol, tobacco, and junk food, and offer little or no fresh foods. The difficulty in obtaining healthy food likely contributes to the disproportionate number of West Oaklanders (more than 1.5 times the Alameda County rate) who die of diabetes and heart disease, conditions that are often preventable with a healthy diet.
In spite of the fact that West Oakland residents have suffered greatly from economic discrimination and racism over the decades, this community still has it's own answers, knowledge, and wisdom. At City Slicker Farms, our vision is to bring together a diverse group of residents and organizations to build community connections and increase access to healthy foods. By growing food in the city, we are contributing to better eating choices, increasing the sustainability of our local food system and improving the environment.