recent oakland garden, project explorations, and tours.
1. people’s grocery.
the people’s grocery has a bunch of projects; produce boxes, cook shops, and market stands – check the website for more info. the only project of theirs that i was available visit was a garden behind the california hotel – very different from the hotel california. california hotel is a beautiful historic hotel, hotel california is one of my least favorite songs.
many of your favorite performers like little richard and sam cooke played this joint. its lost some of its luster, becoming a single occupancy room hotel for low-income oaklanders. they have dealt with several series of evictions and slum lords, but it seemed as though they might be on the right track. in spite of the difficulties, you could still tell what an amazing space it is. the down stairs is an open and airy space that you have to walk though to get to the garden if the back gate is not open. the gardens are not big, tucked away in the back court-yard of the hotel, but seem well used and cared for. they had a big outbreak of garden symphylans which had relegated them to a select a few crops that seems to not be bothered by them, sunchokes among them. most of the other crops were grown in raised beds, and the food mostly went into cooking food for volunteers and cook shops.in the greenhouse they grow transplants for sale in order to have enough cash to pay a couple of folks from the hotel. it’s california – they don’t have to heat the thing!they sell some of these transplant to whole foods. given the debate that has been raging in detroit around whole foods i was surprised that they would do so. but the young man, max, who ran the gardens seemed nonchalant – “i don’t like it, but they have the money” being able to provide a source of income for those at the hotel was more important, and i respect that decision. in addition to the transplants they also have large vermicomposting bins from which they sell worms to garden centers. its california so these guys can stay out all year. max can explain the other programs they do better in his own words than i can, so i’ll let him do it. i should note, these are not images i shot – i have to give credit to pondance whose youtube channel i lifted this from. pondance if you got a problem i’ll take it down, but i think its fair use.
i didn’t really have a chance to see too much of city slickers work – next time. i did have a chance to hang with one of the founders, and first director – willow. i felt my brain was gonna be burned right out by her piercing blue eyes, but it turned out ok. she is nice and my brain is intact – i would have liked to talk with her longer. while wandering in search of another project i stumbled upon one of their gardens, under construction. strangely it really reminded me of the gardens at lafayette greens. i’m wondering if there is a common ancestor out there, lurking in dwell magazine or something like that.
3. big daddy’s complete rejuvenating garden.
i stumbled upon this too. it was locked. its not in oakland it’s in emeryville – the only thing i know about emeryville is i once read that the band neurosis started in emeryville. and neurosis is rad, so how bad can emeryville be?
i guess this place used to be a service station with big daddy running it. i like the metal work, but this place was by far the most stereotypical california garden i had seen, with all the bright colors and artwork. actually emeryville seems extremely stereotypically california.
3. phat beets.
how could i not like phat beets – they are called phat beets, and they pack veggie boxes each week call beet boxes. i walked the 2 miles from novella and billy’s knowing i had arrived when i saw this sign ( i had intended to ride a loaner bike, only to discover the front wheel had been stolen in the night)i had made enough time to help the folks at phat beets to pack produce boxes for a couple of hours. phat beets packs these boxes and distributes them once a week – they also set up farmers markets. i liked the folks from phat beets and what they were doing, it felt simple, direct, and well-organized. i fell into an easy rhythm of packing boxes, hanging with volunteers, and asking questions. i had to work real hard not to take control of the situation, i’m so used to being in charge of volunteer days.
some of the transplants from the people’s grocery were being sold – pretty nice looking transplants. other vendors were selling veggies, baked goods, fruit, lentils and beans, tacos, and some crafts. there was a cooking demo, and a seed swap table. dead prez and damian marley blasted over the sound system. the only thing missing was customers, which made me feel bad for the vendors that they weren’t getting any business.
one blog post from their website i especially like is this one about being a “poverty pimp”
those naughty black panthers waving their shotguns in the air. we all know now that huey was so smart that he had figured out that carrying loaded weapons as long as they were not conceded was legal by california law now, but those brothers with shotguns looked pretty scary at the time, and the media general failed to focus on the fact that it was legal. while the media might focus on the guns, the panthers were much more focused on social programs to provided much-needed help in their communities, and created independence from white led social services (what few were actually doing anything in the neighborhood) i was fortunate enough to be able to tour sites in west oakland with former bpp chief of staff david hilliard. he took us on a three-hour tour of sites pointing out the houses that bobby seale and huey newton had grown up in, the schools they had first organized in, location of various offices, locations of important actions, and eventually where many in the panther party members were gunned down and died. throughout this all david provided intimate stories of the time, wisdom learned, and reflection on the present. it was insight that i very much need, and am thankful to have had the chance to spend that time with hilliard.
of course one needs to have a critical analysis, and certainly hilliard recounts the bpp party in a way that makes it seem more progressive, and less radical than it actually was. he certainly paints it as more accepting of women, other minorities, and homosexuals, than they were (though certainly they were doing a better job than most groups at the time). he certainly down plays the violence, maoist inspired rhetoric, and extortion that the panthers could use as tools to get the work done. i don’t make any claim to being a great bpp scholar, (though i did pick up several books that hilliard recommended and look forward to learning more) but as far as i can tell the reality of the bpp is more nuanced and complex, just as the leadership was. the bpp is more interesting, more inspiring, and offers me more lessons when we view the mistakes, as well as its achievements (which were many).
one question in particular that was burning, that a couple of people tried to ask, and seemed especially relevent given the occupy movement – “was the existence of strong charismatic leadership by folks like newton and seale, a weakness of the organization which allowed cointelpro to single individuals out and discredit them. was the strong central leadership contrary to the maoist principles the party was so influenced by?” i wasn’t able to get my answer, but it was still good food for thought.
part of the reason i think for hilliard’s need to put a more positive light on the panther party is that it is his legacy, and that he wants to portray that in a positive light – one could even make a claim that with the bpp seen in a positive light, it means more money for the foundation he runs – certainly i was tempted by those sweet bpp t-shirts (i’ll take a large if you are buying) but the reality i think, the reality i experienced, was the most amazing adoration and respect for one man – hilliard’s love of newton, a man that he felt had inspired and transformed him as a person, very much for the better. what i felt was hilliard’s need to to expose the world to newton’s thoughts and ideas – and that the world would be a better place if the they knew and understood the legacy of the black panther party. i couldn’t agree more – and i’m looking forward to learning more.