How ANV is Challenging Oppressive Dynamics Through Urban Farming

By Geana Sieburger |

Here's some context for those who don't know about 3% for Justice. We’ve redistributed a percentage of sales here and there for the last two years, but what I decided to do last year is to build it into our business model. Currently, we redistribute 3% of our online sales to support organizations that protect civil rights, empower marginalized groups, and protect the environment. That means that everyday we’re setting some amount aside for justice, for change, for a better future. We’re focusing on our local community while staying very true to our nuanced values, which in some quarters will lead us to organizations in other parts of the state, country and world.

Last quarter, we supported Acta Non Verba: Youth Urban Farm Project (ANV). They work to elevate life in Oakland and beyond by challenging oppressive dynamics and environments through urban farming. Founded and led mainly by women of color from the surrounding neighborhood and larger community, ANV creates a safe and creative outdoor space for children, youth, and families in East Oakland, CA. ANV engages and strengthens young people’s understanding of nutrition, food production, the natural world and healthy living as well as strengthens their ties to the community.

I had a conversation with Aaron, ANV farm manager and educator last month. We talked about ANV’s main projects and the impact he sees ANV make on our community’s young people and their families. I am in complete awe over the beauty of ANV’s deeply thoughtful work and know you will be too. Let's jump in!

Geana: Can you tell us about ANV's main projects?

Aaron: We are an urban farm-based organization and have three urban farms in Oakland. One of the original, what we call our flagship farm, is a quarter acre in East Oakland in Tassafaronga Park. It acts first of all, as a beautiful outdoor green space that people can come to. They have access to it, they can help, they can learn, they can simply just sit and enjoy, or they can gather. It's a multi-functional space for our community. There aren't many spaces like that in East Oakland. So, before anything, that's what we wanted to offer. 

Our biggest project is the seasonal camp. We have a big summer camp. At the onset of the COVID pandemic, we completely pivoted and moved everything online, but it’s still a really hands-on and involved camp.

We don't turn anybody away for lack of funds. We have camper-ships and we come up with different things that work. We have parents that will come and help out, maybe organize some of the supplies for other campers in exchange for their camper attending. Or they'll come help on the farm or volunteer in one of our other programs. Our camps are an all-day thing, so they do everything. But it's not just a farm–that’s just a segment of it. They learn to cook farm-to-table, sourcing as much as we can from our own farms. All the recipes have no sugar added and the same with all the snacks that we provide. 

They actually create, whether it's smoothies or making a salad. They get involved with it so they can learn what goes into their food, where it's coming from, and all the healthy options that they can have agency in.

There's a photography class where they work with a professional photographer. They have a dance class, there's podcasting, and we also had a zero-waste or low-waste class. We send out kits for all of these classes. And so, they have everything they need to participate in the activities. It looked different this year than it had in past years, given that it was all virtual. 

That's our big program. And then throughout the school year, we have our after school program. We refer to that as ASP. They get tutoring. We provide snacks. Again, the snacks are sourced from our farm as much as possible and we have them involved in that process–they actually create, whether it's smoothies or making a salad. They get involved with it so they can learn what goes into their food, where it's coming from, and all the healthy options that they can have agency in. They have farm times. So, twice a week as part of the after-school program they come out to the farm. Other farmers or I dedicate time to just working with them, so they learn how to maintain projects on the farm.

In the past, we've done language classes. There’re about four different languages spoken just in our small community. They learn languages with each other. That way we can create more cultural awareness so we share that with each other.

All our sister farms are POC as well. It's really allowed us to switch our focus to creating even more steady access. So, that's been really dope. We've really widened our reach and the depth at which we're able to help people with food security. 

Outside of that, we have our CSA program, that's the one I'm managing aside from the farms and it really ballooned with the onset of this pandemic. We had about 12 paying customers about this time last year. Then we started doing about 30 households and then in August, we announced that we were starting on the DEEP box program. And now we're serving, I think the last count was, 470 different households with produce. With that, we're able to accept EBT. We want to make sure we're creating more access to fresh produce.

The way we have it set up basically allows the paying customers to offset, or it creates free shares for our folks out in East Oakland. So, we're able to distribute the fresh produce for free out there. We're no longer sourcing just from our farms. We're aggregating from our family farmers–we call them our sister farms–who use natural farming practices that align with how we grow. All our sister farms are POC as well. It's really allowed us to switch our focus to creating even more steady access. So, that's been really dope. We've really widened our reach and the depth at which we're able to help people with food security.  

We also do our annual community field trip usually in October. We rent a bus and then we take all the families in the neighborhood. We've gone to the coast in the North Bay. We had all kinds of different activities like nature walks. Every time we have a professional photographer take family portraits. We take those for free and give them the photo on the same day. So that way, by the time they get off the bus in Oakland, we're handing them their family portraits. We have games and activities, and everybody gets fed. It’s a way for everybody to getaway and spend time together, but also for the kids to be able to see outside of their own neighborhood. I think we did that for three years. That was a slightly newer thing. 

Geana: Sounds like you all are probably really busy. 

Aaron: Yeah. There's a lot going on pretty much at all times. 

At first they come on and they kind of just want to hang out and see what’s going on. They see you next door all the time, so they just want to get familiar with the space. And four years later, I can rely on them.

Geana: What impact do you personally see ANV makes on Oakland youth who participate at the farm or in the programs?  

Aaron: It varies because you got some kids who are really into the farm. And so, I see them regularly. They might not be formally in our program, but they know the farm hours because we have open farm time three days a week. And so, we see some of the same kids coming in.

Being the farm manager, I see that the most. At first they come on and they kind of just want to hang out and see what’s going on. They see you next door all the time, so they just want to get familiar with the space. And four years later, I can rely on them. They water the crops for me, I can just say, “hey, can you plant this right here" and they just take it away. They don't really need me to guide them through it at that point. So, I definitely see growth there.

It's even cooler to see them taking more agency about what's grown like, “hey, can we grow this,” or “I noticed this isn't here,” or “somebody at school asked if I can bring some of this.” And so, they're wanting to get a little more involved and kind of give direction on where/what we're growing. That's really really cool! 

And then in the camps, it's really cool to get the feedback at the end of the year. We have two sessions of camps. There's two- or four-week session. And at the end of each session, we do The showcase. They show the photography that they did. They perform the dances they learned. They share their podcast or any music that they made. So, it's just like a showcase of all the things that they created over the summer in what they learned. 

It's really really cool to see a kid coming in, being really shy and not wanting to dance–there are so many kids they don't know. But then by the end of it, you got a whole pack of them, just really enjoying themselves and making friends.

Geana: That’s amazing! Anything else you’d like to share with us?

Aaron: Yeah! Our CSA is open to new customers. And, come by the farm. We offer year-around programming, and the farm is open to the public on the first Saturday of every month.

I know you're probably filled with positive energy right now. But please remember, Acta Non Verba, Actions Not Words. Visit Acta Non Verba: Youth Urban Farm Project online to learn more and get involved.

A big thanks to Aaron for hoping on a call with me and sharing these images with us.

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