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Article: Bringing Food Justice to the Table: City Slicker Farms

Fresh, organic produce grown in Oakland.

Bringing Food Justice to the Table: City Slicker Farms

Here at Stasher, we’re committed to leaving our planet better than we found it; with product innovation, through nonprofit partners, and even in our “Squad time.” Instead of just putting words on paper, we aim to put ‘em into action by gathering Stasher HQ to engage with our community regularly. So, a few months back, we got our hands dirty — literally.

An afternoon had us digging up weeds, planting, and building structures like countless other volunteers that come to help out at City Slicker Farms’ (CSF) West Oakland Farm Park. And though many of us may not have a green thumb, “All you need to garden is your own two hands and the desire to learn,” says CSF Marketing and Communications Manager Aliya Benudiz.

Stasher Squad HG visits City Slicker Farms in West Oakland

Those things plus a deep passion for West Oakland residents is what led to the farm’s start in 2001. Founder Willow Rosenthal saw what food justice advocates call a “food apartheid,” where lack of access to fresh produce combined with systemic redlining, resulting in higher long-term health problems. Put in today’s perspective: one of its few grocery stores has closed, and 25,000 residents must depend on fellow mission-driven Mandela Grocery Cooperative or corner liqueur stores. That’s where urban farming trailblazer CSF comes in. 

“[While in school], I focused on the downstream causes of common health outcomes. And every time I dove into it, it led me to food,” says Aliya. “Food is medicine. How can we empower communities to grow healthy food for themselves so that they don’t run into problems down the line?” With a degree in public health and food systems, Aliya helps the farm in its many programs, i.e., backyard garden creation, community garden access, and Town Fridge food sharing. 

In the beginning, it was Willow and friends guerilla gardening, giving surplus produce to neighbors. Now, CSF has built over 400 backyard gardens for residents — plus for churches, libraries, and even tent cities — and manages a thriving food park where people have access to (and input in) produce. And they’re taught essential, sustainable agricultural skills. “We really provide them with knowledge that’s truly powerful; you know, taking their diets into their own hands.”  Growing your own food in a city.

Striving for food justice means looking critically at accessibility and systems; is the food affordable, is it culturally relevant, and does it arrive to tables as organically grown? “Some people may think the solution is just, ‘Oh, let’s throw some kale out in the fridge!’ But if you come from a culture where you’ve never cooked with it, you won’t eat it.” With community feedback, the farm has grown everything from collard greens to bird’s eye chilies — and nothing goes to waste. 

Produce grown is used to stock a CSF fridge as part of the Town Fridge collective, which operates over a dozen free fridges across Oakland that residents and businesses regularly contribute to. “Little things make a huge difference . . . If you find yourself with too many leftovers, or too-ripe avocados, bring them to the fridge for people who’ll 100% eat them.” But before food even gets to their fridge, the farm is dedicated to reducing waste throughout their agricultural practices. “Our chickens will terrifyingly eat anything. Within a 24-hour turn around, scraps become an egg. Or compost. Then, it’s going back into our soil with worms to fertilize.”

West Oakland Community GardenBut what’s the best way to create a more sustainable, waste-reducing food system? Empowering communities to take control. “When you take a bite out of the first tomato that you grew yourself, you're never going back. Seeing a carrot in the ground that becomes a carrot in your hands and then becomes a carrot on your plate, it increases the connection. It’s a matter of sparking that passion in yourself and sharing it with others.” It’s harder to let food go to waste once it’s a product of loving labor — especially from your own hand. 

For us, that’s what the waste-free journey is all about: inspiring small, impactful actions by bringing the joy of sustainability into your everyday life. Whether it’s growing your own food or swapping single-use plastic for a reusable when throwing leftovers in the fridge, being intentional with our food is a significant step all of us can take to reduce waste. 


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