It’s amazing what one person can do for the community. Last year I met Donald Theard the main volunteer gardener at the People’s Grocery garden at 7th and Market. Called Free-er Way Garden because it’s right next to the freeway, it’s open to anyone to come by and pick vegetables. It provides a crucial service to the West Oakland neighborhood where healthy foods are hard to come by, though it wouldn’t be possible without a dedicated volunteer growing the food.
Not long ago the garden was a weed-filled vacant lot but People’s Grocery got permission to grow vegetables as part of their food justice program. When I talked to Donald last year he told me he’d never grown vegetables till the year before when he started volunteering at the garden. He said he comes twice a week tending the garden growing everything from carrots, collard greens, peppers, kale, tomatoes, beans, chard, squash, watermelons and more. His latest experiment was growing okra. There’s newly planted fruit trees, an arbor, a greenhouse for starting seedlings and a beautiful mural. Across the street there’s a McDonalds but there’s no place nearby to buy produce. While I was there several neighbors came by and picked their own vegetables, including senior, Cloteal Davis who was picking up some collard greens and peppers for dinner.
I stopped by the garden a couple of weeks ago and it’s still going strong, even though People’s Grocery has closed. I wonder if Donald is still at work, keeping the community healthy with fresh organic produce. If anyone knows please contact me so I can check in with Donald Theard, I’d love to hear how last year’s okra crop went.
Read an in depth story about Oakland’s Right to Grow program and four other American cities working to fix the broken food system in Fixing Food: Fresh Solutions from Five U. S. Cities by The Union of Concerned Scientists, 2015.