The following is a reflection from one of our beloved Summer 2013 allies:
Today is my last day at People’s Grocery, and I can’t believe this experience is ending. The People’s Grocery allyship experience is incredibly full and fulfilling-I will miss this place a lot. Over the past three months I’ve been involved primarily with the gardens and the Growing Justice Institute, but I’ve also learned about the internal workings of People’s Grocery as a non-profit and as an intimate group of coworkers who fundamentally support each other and their mission. The friends I’ve made here are phenomenal, perceptive, committed people who I hope to know for a good long while.
What makes the allyship program here unique is the emphasis on reflection and evaluation of what work we do. Even while working in the gardens, trellising tomatoes, or feeding the worms, we are encouraged to think about the why’s and how’s of People’s Grocery. This constant analysis and re-framing gives this organization an understanding of how best to do work in West Oakland in addition to giving the allies tools for becoming food justice advocates. As allies, we are encouraged to consider how our own actions impact, and are impacted by, their context within People’s Grocery and within West Oakland.
My personal experience here was a balance between the physical work of urban gardening and the mental feats of office tasks. After working on small to medium farms in rural areas, getting involved in urban gardens re-framed the way I think about food production. There is a magic in finding materials you need in a city, whether through donations or by using the lumber scraps lying around. Gardens in an area where fresh produce is nearly inaccessible felt to me like a battle ground, but also a sanctuary. One of my projects was the smaller garden by the 7th street office. People’s Grocery gave me the freedom to take the garden in any direction I wanted. That flexibility allowed to me to use my previous knowledge and deepen my understanding of the People’s Grocery/West Oakland needs by trying to meet them in various ways.
Outside of the gardens, I worked in the office, mainly with the Growing Justice Institute. Spending time in the office was one of the highlights of my experience. The People’s Grocery staff are wholly committed to supporting and developing their relationships with allies, with each other, and with any person who walks through the front door. Through my work with GJI, I saw how the specific programming of People’s Grocery carries through to impact the actual lives of West Oaklanders. The program itself is able to transition through stages and transform into whatever is needed and doable at the time. Thinking about those kinks and corners helped me understand how organizations connect with the people they are involved with. With this work as well, I was given freedom and minimal directions. The responsibility to figuring out projects and seeing them through in whichever way I thought best was wonderful.
Throughout this summer I’ve learned so much. I know more about what food justice means, what allyship means, how to do work that helps people, how to positively interact in a workplace, and how to take the justice-orientation to a personal level in my day-to-day life. I know I’m leaving People’s Grocery a different person then when I came. I don’t know where I’m going next, but wherever it is I will bring with me a deeper understanding of systems of oppression, emotional intelligence work, and what it means to be a food justice advocate, as well as memories of heart-swelling relationships.