East Bay Urban Farms Sprout Healthy Food Choices

Written by Rosie Linares. Posted in Environment, Healthcare, Land Use, News

Tagged: , , , , , , ,

Published on August 20, 2012 with 3 Comments

Terryl “Pac” Rucker completes daily chores at Dig Deep Farms and Produce’s Firehouse farm in Ashland including watering locally grown crops.  Photos by Rosie Linares.

By Rosie Linares

August 20, 2012

In an age of genetically modified foods, spiraling obesity rates and food prices, communities are responding by converting empty plots of land into thriving and sustainable urban farms, producing healthy organic fruits, vegetables and herbs.

Such is the case in the neighborhoods of Ashland and Cherryland, unincorporated areas of Alameda County under jurisdiction of the City of San Leandro – where few grocery markets serve a community of 37,000 residents.

Cherryland native Tammy Wakerling remembers a time when Cherryland residents enjoyed a community center and public swimming pool. She is the operational manager of Dig Deep Farms and Produce, a program founded by the Alameda County Deputy Sheriffs’ Activities League and funded in part by Kaiser Permanente.

Dig Deep seeks to prevent crime through job creation, to revitalize the community and promote healthy eating. It’s a non-profit social enterprise that provides fresh and affordable, locally grown produce for East Bay homes and restaurants from urban farms in Ashland, Cherryland, San Leandro and Castro Valley.  The organization also buys produce from Veritable Vegetable, a San Francisco-based distributor of organic and sustainable produce.

Founded in 2010, Dig Deep provides employment opportunities for local workers, offers healthier lifestyle choices and works toward deterring youth crime.

Dig Deep Farms and Produce farmers discuss tasks that need to be completed.

Sam Faulker adds beets to the “Grub Box” bags while Terryl Rucker checks the bags to see what other produce needs to be added.

Jocelyn Bentley-Prestwich carries empty tree pots to the orchard area at Camp Sweeny.

A complete Grub Box bag containing freshly picked tangerines, kiwi, red mustard, red potatoes, yellow onions, carrots, beets, cauliflower and Italian parsley – all organic and locally grown.

Ashland, Cherryland and San Lorenzo have some of the highest rates of nutrition-related morbidity in Alameda County, according to a 2010 Health of Alameda County Cities and Places Report.

Many in the community believe a lack of grocery markets and other outlets for sustainable and nutritious food is contributing to high obesity rates and other health problems.

According to the report, the region’s obesity rates are 30 percent above the county average.

Dig Deep seeks to reverse this trend by providing communities with healthier food options. It’s partnered with People’s Grocery, a West Oakland non-profit, to run a community-supported agriculture project called “Grub Box” that produces organic and locally grown produce, made available to communities that otherwise might not be able to afford it.

Commonly known as a CSA (community supported agriculture), individuals commit to buying at least one box each week containing a selection of fresh produce. The content of each box varies by season and can cost between $10 and $25 depending on the size of the bag.

During this summer’s season, the boxes contain lettuce, yellow onions, red mustard greens, tangerines and carrots.

Dig Deep Communications Director Tommie Wheeler, one of the original 10 employees to work on the program’s first urban farming site, said she had no previous farming experience but learned how to plant, tend and harvest on the job.

In addition to paid employees, volunteers help care for the program’s three urban farms.  Some of the volunteers are youths from the non-profit community-service organization Soulciety, as well as crime abatement and prevention programs run through the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office. In addition to these programs, many of Dig Deep’s volunteers are community members.  The volunteers are provided internships that can lead to employment.

“The goal of Dig Deep Farms & Produce is to ensure that the people in our community have access to fresh, healthy, affordable food,” said Dig Deep general manager, Hank Herrera.  “We also want to ensure that the people in our community produce distribute and sell this healthy food so that the community receives both the nutritional benefit of healthy food and the economic benefit of growing and selling it.”

“We see many additional community benefits from this whole system of the production, distribution and exchange of healthy food, but that is a longer story,” Herrera added.

More photos

Terryl Rucker pulls unwanted dead produce from Dig Deep’s Pacific Apparel urban farming site.

Watered produce at the Dig Deep Farms & Produce “Fire House” urban farm site.

Farm manager Jesse Steinberg and Terryl Rucker enjoy a little levity after Rucker tricked Steinberg into shaking his glue-covered hand.

Design Consultant Jocelyn Bentley-Prestwich and Farm Manager Jesse Steinberg dig out dirt to make room to plant a baby tree at Camp Sweeny.

Terryl Rucker groups carrots together in preparation for making Grub Boxes.

Intern Josue Valdez uses a cultivator while Terryl Rucker uses a hoe tending to the “Pacific Apparel” urban farm, previously an unused parking lot.

Farm Manager Jesse Steinberg, Communications Director Tommie Wheeler and Jarryd Smith take a break to eat lunch at the Dig Deep Farms and Produce office in San Leandro.

Sam Faulkner and Tommie Wheeler deliver the CSA Grub Box bags to residences and restaurants.

Tommie Wheeler makes a delivery to a pleased elderly woman.

Rosie Linares

Rosie Linares

Rosie Linares is a third year student at San Francisco State University majoring in journalism with an emphasis in photojournalism. Since she was a young child living in Belmont, CA, 20 miles south of San Francisco, Linares has shown interested in photography. Throughout her high school years at Carlmont High School, Linares took various photography courses from different institutions including the near-by junior college, College of San Mateo, and the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. In her later years at college, she came to discover her hidden love for writing and language. Photojournalism for Linares is a mixture of two things she is passionate about: photography and writing. Photography allows her to capture unique moments of life, while writing allows Linares to explain that unique moment in detail. She hopes that through photojournalism she may express her interests for photography and writing while traveling the world. Linares also hopes that through traveling she can gain a broader understanding of the world and the different people, cultures, and ideas within it. Ultimately, Linares aspires to impact people and insight change through the most influential outlet—the media. When she isn’t snapping away with her camera, Linares enjoys reading, admiring art in museums, lying on grass in nearby parks, hiking on nature trails, and cuddling with her 10 lbs. Chihuahua/Doberman, Charlie.

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  • PatrickMonkRn

    Great article Rosie, great pics, thanks. This is just another small step in the struggle to preserve healthy foods and people. Small farmers world wide are under threat from the devastating effects of GMO crops and toxic pesticides; organic farmers in the US are threatened by cross pollination from nearby GM crops. Please help us take another small by supporting PROPOSITION 37 in November and requiring that all Genetically Modified foods be labeled. Thank you.
    Patrick Monk.RN. Noe Valley. SF. Ca.
    http://www.labelgmos.org
    http://www.carighttoknow.org

  • Tony

    Love your page and photos this is a special shout out to Tommie, Sam, Jarryd, Hank and Dan who I met at the FD event in Detroit…………..tony@eastnewyorkfarms.org

  • http://www.facebook.com/annie.garrison Ann Garrison

    I LOVE Dig Deep Farms and People’s Grocery.   On Tuesday, I forgot to pick up my Grub Box, so they gave it away, and delivered another on Friday.